10 Frickin’ Amazing Facts about the ITER Fusion Reactor
The sun lies at the heart of our solar system and is one of the largest and most influential objects in space. Unlike the light we see that comes from a light bulb, the sun produces its energy and light. It creates this energy through a process called nuclear fusion, where two atoms of hydrogen combine to form one, larger atom of helium. When this happens, energy is produced as both light and heat. That’s why when the sun is shining, we can see its bright light and feel its heat from a million miles away. What if we were able to employ the energy from the sun to provide thousands of cities throughout the world with a cleaner and more sustainable form of energy? Although it sounds far-fetched, it is something that 35 different countries are currently trying to do in Southern France.
The ITER Fusion Reactor, or International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, is a multi-billion-dollar project that is looking to tap into the sun’s power on a greater level than ever before. Compared to some of the most common energy sources that we use around the world today, nuclear energy is much cleaner than oil, coal, or natural gas. While nuclear fission reactors produce toxic residue, nuclear fusion generates waste that is non-radioactive and that can be recycled seamlessly in less than a century. In addition, compared to traditional reactors, nuclear fusion doesn’t pose the same risk with regards to nuclear meltdown and dysfunction. Since nuclear fusion reactors can run off of water from the sea, they offer a clean and renewable source of energy unlike any that the world has seen up until this point in time. Here are ten amazing facts about the ITER Fusion Reactor that will transform your thoughts on how we power our world.
10ITER Tops Fusion Power Production
The ITER Energy Project is one of the biggest and best of its kind. Known as one of the most ambitious and astonishing energy projects in the world, it aims to build the largest and strongest tokamak, which is a confined magnetic device that is used as the basis of modern-day fusion reactors. It is an advanced system that aims to pave the way for fusion reactors of the future. It will be the first device ever created that will produce net energy. Net energy is when the amount of energy that is generated from the system is greater than the energy that is used to power the system itself. The ITER tokamak has been strategically designed to surpass the current world record for fusion power. The current record is held by a European tokamak called ‘Jet.’ This tokamak produced 16MW of power from a 24MW input in 1997. The ITER energy project aims to shatter this record, providing an incredible return on energy. With just 50MW of power put in, it is expected to produce 500MW of fusion power! Although ITER will not capture and retain the power it is anticipated to produce, it will provide the platform for developing a machine of the future that can.
9ITER is the First of Its Kind to Maintain Energy for Long Periods of Time
Not only is ITER expected to shatter the record for energy output and net gain, but it is projected to maintain power for much longer periods of time. In the research world, we are just beginning to fully comprehend the mechanics behind burning plasma. In order for nuclear fusion to occur, atoms need to be heated to incredibly high temperatures before joining together. On the surface of the sun, for instance, temperatures reach more than 10-15 million degrees Celsius! In order to replicate those extreme temperatures on earth, scientists have experimented with different devices to create a state of matter that is very similar to plasma. It is not considered a liquid, gas, or a solid, so scientists refer to it as plasma. In order to create sustainable fusion, the plasma has to be burning. Those who are helping to develop ITER believe that the plasma that is produced in ITER will not only create more energy, but will last for much longer periods of time as compared to traditional reactor methods. This could be an incredible breakthrough for the future of energy creation!
8ITER is Being Developed by More than 35 Different Countries
Impressively, this massive project is being completed by more than 35 different countries. The idea was first planted in 1985, when thousands of scientists and engineers came together to discuss the possibility of designing something with such integrity and wonder. The ITER agreement came together in 2006 when the United States, China, the European Union, India, Japan, Russia, and Korea signed the contract to participate in such a large undertaking. Together, they would explore one of the greatest areas of science and aim to replicate the energy of the sun here on earth.
Each ITER member shares in the cost of the construction. They will also chip in for operational costs and help to oversee commissioning once the project is completed. Each member will also share in the results and have full access to lessons learned along the way. The European Union is primarily responsible for the construction costs. China, India, Japan, Russia, Korea, and the United States share in a small percentage of those fees. Interestingly enough, the countries that are participating in the project are donating little money. Rather, contributions are being made in the form of buildings and other construction components. Altogether, the ITER project is supported by more than half of the world’s population and more than 85% of the gross domestic product around the globe. The power of 35 countries coming together to support the creation of sustainable energy is truly amazing.
7ITER Will Demonstrate How Feasible it is Produce Tritium
Tritium is a form of hydrogen that is radioactive. Its properties are very useful when it comes to generating energy in nuclear fusion reactors. When you mix Tritium with a phosphor, it emits light. Hence, it serves as a robust and sustainable light source. So, why is Tritium so important when it comes to the ITER project? While Tritium is one of the two primary fuels that generates a nuclear fusion reactor, it is virtually non-existent in nature. That means that in order to make a nuclear fusion reactor, Tritium must first be created. Fusion reactors are able to produce Tritium through a process known as ‘Tritium breeding’. This refers to the reaction that takes place when a neutron produced from the fusion reactor is mixed with lithium. When combined, this mixture forms one Tritium and one Helium nucleus. Since there is not enough Tritium in the world to supply future reactors, the ITER project will provide scientists with the opportunity to organically produce it on their own. They will be able to make their own Tritium in a well-organized and efficient manner, while utilizing specially designed systems that will help to adequately manage Tritium levels and prevent any unnecessary exposure. This process will undoubtedly serve as a useful tool for the future of nuclear energy production.
6ITER was Licensed as a Nuclear Operator in France in 2012
For ITER members, safety is of the utmost concern. If not tended to appropriately, the generation of nuclear power can bring about grave concerns. This is why the signing of a decree authorizing ITER as a nuclear operator in 2012 was such a huge success in the world of nuclear fusion. After years of rigorous review by officials specializing in nuclear safety, the French government gave the project its final blessing. This is the first time in our history that a nuclear fusion device has ever been successfully licensed as a nuclear operator. What an incredible feat! For years, officials had to pine away at more than 5,000 pages of detailed safety outlines. They considered the inventory of several radioactive materials in a fusion device, as well as the potential for toxic radiation exposure. After reviewing the principal hazards, they analyzed the built-in safety functions and quality of the design as a whole. Overall, they deemed the nuclear reactor a safe and viable project that complies with rather stringent French regulations. While there will certainly be ongoing auditing and inspection by French nuclear agents, this is truly an incredible milestone for the collaboration this early in the game.
5The ITER Project is an Architectural Masterpiece
ITER is truly an architectural masterpiece. Per their contribution to the project, the European Union is helping to build most of the foundation and site buildings on more than 180 hectares of land. To put this into perspective, one hectare is equal to approximately 100 acres of land! The site, which is located in Southern France, is quite extensive, to say the least. At the end of construction, there will be more than 39 buildings that will house the primary tokamak and all of its plants. The Tokamak, itself, will be accommodated in a building that is more than seven stories high. This building is due to be reinforced with concrete that will be thirteen meters below the ground level platform. On the lot, as a whole, there will be designated areas for offices, storage, active workshops, and other project zones. Huge buildings will be placed within the lot with plenty of space to create, develop, and produce nuclear magic. In addition, civil engineers are working hard to build a fully integrated system of drainage, as well as parking areas and roads for easy access to the ITER site. When all is said and done, the ITER site will truly be an architectural wonder.
4ITER Transportation is Impressive
Can you imagine how much precision and coordination it must take to transport thousands of little pieces and several large objects around the world without compromising the integrity of such parts? The ITER project is a collaborative effort between 35 different countries. While the European Union is responsible for a large part of the construction, there are pieces that are being shipped overseas and transported long distances from countries across the world. While the final construction is sure to amaze millions, the actual process is perhaps more of a wonder. In addition to meticulous coordination and precision, transporting such items requires the right infrastructure, as well.
Once the items are shipped to the shores of South France, they shall be carried to Cadarache where they will be put together. The bridges, back roads, and highways have been scrutinized carefully to ensure that they can support such heavy loads for such long distances. The heaviest of all the loads is projected to weigh roughly 800 tons! After all, the existing infrastructure wasn’t built with the notion that the world’s largest and most powerful nuclear fusion reactor would be built there! Those who assisted in the preparation also needed to make sure that nearby villages would not be disturbed once convoys started passing through with such bulky materials. Many roads were enlarged and bridges were reinforced to support the commencement of such a large-scale project. The transportation and configuration of such materials for this project is truly amazing.
3The ITER Machine will Require 1.5 Million Hours of Man-Power to Assemble
Another surprising fact about the ITER project is that it is expected to take more than 1.5 million hours of manpower to transport, assemble, and finalize the construction of this massive undertaking. To put this into perspective, one million hours is equal to roughly 114 years. This means that the entire project is going to take close to two centuries of sheer manpower to finish! To put this into perspective even further, the Eiffel Tower, which is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world, took just over two years to build. While this was indeed considered ‘fast’ for the construction of such a large tower back in the late 1800’s, it is nothing compared to how long it is expected to take to finalize ITER. The ITER organization has several people who are currently working on putting together what they refer to as a user’s manual for the construction. What is most challenging, perhaps, is that there is no outline or blueprint for a project of this magnitude in existence. The individuals who are working on the backside of this project must figure out exactly how all of the pieces will fit together and how the existing resources will best be allocated. There is an insane amount of work that is going to have to come together to ensure that all of the pieces are transported safely, inspected to ensure they are in proper working condition, and put together to make sure that they will operate as intended once the final construction is up and running.
2The ITER will Contain More than One Million Components
If the ITER machine is going to require more than 1.5 million hours of manpower, you know that the construction of this machine is no small feat. In fact, in order to construct the 30 buildings that are going to be used to operate ITER, as well as the ITER machine itself, more than 10 million pieces need to come together in harmony to create the largest and most efficient nuclear fusion reactor known to man. Over 30,000 components are going to be manufactured and assembled and more than 10 million bits are going to be pieced together to ensure a smooth operation. This is altogether one of the most complex, unique, and intricate machines ever designed in the history of man.
Again, to put this into perspective, it is helpful to consider the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower is certainly an architectural wonder in and amongst itself. Built at the tail end of the nineteenth century, the Eiffel Tower was designed and constructed as the main attraction for the World Fair, which was held in Paris in 1889. More than 18,000 pieces were designed, built, and assembled to complete the tower in just over two years. While the Eiffel Tower was considered a remarkable project at the time and remains one of the top attractions in the world today, it is nothing compared to the sheer magnitude of the ITER project.
1Visits to ITER Can Be Arranged Year Round
The most exciting and amazing fact about ITER is that you can visit the site and explore this nuclear wonder! If you have a group of anywhere from nine to 50 people, you can coordinate a site visit on any given day throughout the year. Of course, what you will be able to see will depend on weather conditions once you arrive. Regardless, this will provide you with the opportunity to see one of the most amazing and extensive projects known to man being built! You will witness all of the action up close and personal. When you coordinate a site visit, you will first stop at the visitor’s center. Here, you will view a presentation of the project, as a whole, and learn more about how the project was started, how the site is being constructed, and what ITER means for the future of nuclear energy. Once you have watched the main presentation, you will be given a guided tour of the platform where the scientific facility is currently being built.
ITER does accommodate guided tours for smaller groups and schools, as well. It is recommended that tours are arranged at least four weeks in advance. Proper identification must be furnished at the time of visit. In addition to being able to schedule an individual tour, you can take advantage of ITER’s open door days. This is when ITER is open to the public, free of charge. You can access the schedule of open events on the ITER website. On these days, you can take advantage of a wide range of presentations, guided tours, slideshows, videos, and conferences to learn more about this incredible project. Presentations are given in both English and French. Considering that this is such an intense and challenging undertaking, it is amazing that you are provided with ample opportunity to immerse yourself in the construction of such an architectural wonder.
Globally, we know we are at the point where we need to do something different. We need to tap into alternative sources of energy that are not as detrimental to our environment as some of our traditional means. Scientists and researchers are turning away from traditional energy sources like crude oil and natural gas to explore cleaner and more sustainable forms of energy. While crude oil and natural gas help to heat homes, fuel automobiles, and produce a wide range of items that we use every day, sourcing and extracting such energy from the environment produces some serious side effects. So, scientists are looking at whether we can harness energy from the sun, as well as from the wind, water, and many other things.
The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER as it is commonly referred to, is a multi-billion-dollar project that is looking to tap into the sun’s power on a greater level than ever before. ITER, meaning ‘the way’ in Latin, is one of the largest, most ambitious, and most complex energy projects in the world. The project is a collaborative effort of more than 35 different countries that are looking to build the world’s largest magnetic fusion device. This device will help us to prove that fusion, the process in which the sun produces light and heat, is feasible here on earth. This project, which is going to take many years to complete, is expected to pave the way for future fusion research and transform how we look at nuclear energy. While it is certainly going to take a lot of time, effort, and manpower to complete, the ITER project is expected to be bigger and better than ever before. It is truly a unique undertaking that, when completed, will pave the way for a brighter, cleaner, and safer future for our world.