Deep in the south of France the foundations are being layed for a machine that will hold an artificial star here on earth and harness its energy. It is called ITER and it is an experimental reactor that aims to prove that fusion is a commercially viable option for solving the world’s energy crisis. Fusion is set to revolutionise the world we live in with sustainable, green and safe energy.
Construction is currently under way, building the housing for this behemoth of a tokomak reactor. They are currently laying 493 concrete plinths which will support the reactor and protect it from seismic activity. These pillars spread out from a central point like rudimentary picture of the sun, however they are there to support a star which will be much closer to home.
The 23,000 ton reactor will be held in the central, 60 metre high, building. The heart of the reactor will reach a toasty 150 million degrees, which roughly ten times hotter than the centre of the sun (estimated at around 15.7×106 K), making it one of the hottest places in the universe. In order to contain this fiery plasma the tokamak is equipped with a variety of very big and very powerful magnets. The largest of which is the poloidal field coils which wrap around the torus horizontally. They are 25 metres across and weigh a staggering 400 tonnes each, making them to large to be transported. Therefore they a being built on site out of a niobium-titanium alloy. In order to work they need to become superconducting, this means cooling them down to just 4 degrees above absolute zero. This means that some of the coldest things on our planet will be just a few metres from one of the hottest things in the universe.
ITER is just the next step in the development in fusion power. It is going to build on all of the research on fusion that has come before it and take another step forward in harnessing its power. Many breakthroughs in the field of fusion are down to JET (Joint European Torus) based in Culham, UK. ITER aims to produce it’s first plasma in 2019. If all goes well they aim to build a demonstration power plant or DEMO for short that will be operational in the early 2030s and maybe even putting fusion power into the grid as early as 2040.