The assembly of the world’s largest nuclear fusion project has begun. The five-year project phase began two days ago in the south of France with first ultra-hot plasma expected to be generated in late 2025. The project dubbed Iter Project is a US$23.6 billion dollar project that is expected to replicate the reactions that power the sun and is intended to demonstrate fusion power can be generated on a commercial scale. Nuclear energy is supposedly meant to be clean and offer unlimited power however even after 60 years of research, there are technical challenges of harnessing the high levels of energy produced that are yet to be overcome.
Millions of pieces are going to be used to assemble the giant reactor, which will weigh 23,000 tonnes. The project is the most complex engineering endeavour in history. Almost 3,000 tonnes of superconducting magnets, some heavier than a jumbo jet, will be connected by 200km of superconducting cables, all kept at -269C by the world’s largest cryogenic plant.
Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, launched the assembly phase, alongside senior leaders from Iter the EU, UK, China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the US. Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, said: “I believe disruptive innovation will play a key role in addressing global issues including climate change and realising a sustainable carbon-free society.” “Enabling the exclusive use of clean energy will be a miracle for our planet,” said the director-general of Iter, Bernard Bigot. He stated that fusion, alongside renewable energy, would allow transport, buildings and industry to run on electricity.
Nuclear fusion releases vast amounts of energy when heavy hydrogen atoms fuse together, but this requires a temperature of 150m C, 10 times hotter than the core of the sun. The hydrogen fuel is obtained from seawater and just a few grammes is needed but huge magnets are needed to contain the plasma in doughnut-shaped vacuum chamber known as a tokamak.