Assembly of world’s largest nuclear fusion reactor begins

Work has officially started on assembling the world’s largest nuclear fusion project in France, hopefully enabling clean fusion power to be generated on a massive scale, The Guardian reports. The Iter reactor will weigh 23,000 tons in its fully completed configuration, roughly equivalent to nine-tenths the weight of the Statue of Liberty. It will be made up of millions of components, including 3,000 tons of superconducting magnets, connected by 200 kilometers of superconducting cables, which must be chilled to temperatures of minus-269 degrees Celsius or minus-452 degrees Fahrenheit.

Iter (the Latin word for “the way”) is a large-scale scientific experiment that brings together partners from China, the European Union, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the United States to build “biggest fusion reactor in history.” The first ultra-hot plasma that will be generated by the $23.6 billion Iter reactor is due to be created in late 2025.

“Today, fusion research is at the threshold of exploring a ‘burning plasma,’ in which sufficient heat from the fusion reaction is retained within the plasma and sustains the reaction for a long duration,” the project’s website notes. “Such exploration is a necessary step toward the realization of a fusion energy source. Scientists are confident that the larger Iter plasmas will not only produce much more fusion power, but will remain stable for long periods of time. The scale of Iter is necessary to break new ground in fusion science.”

Bernard Bigot, Iter director-general, said that, “Enabling the exclusive use of clean energy will be a miracle for our planet.” However, he noted that, “Constructing the machine piece by piece will be like assembling a three-dimensional puzzle on an intricate timeline, [and] with the precision of a Swiss watch.”

If Iter is a success, it will be a game-changer on a spectacular level. The goal is to be able to generate 10 times the amount of heat as the input amount — meaning some 500 megawatts from a 50-megawatt input. The temperatures reached by Iter could be many times that of the center of the sun. Efficient nuclear fusion has long been a dream for energy production. However, six decades of research have shown that this is (much) easier said than done.

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