ITER Nuclear Fusion Tokamak Could Be “The Way” to Solve World’s Energy Problems

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Huge ITER Cryosat to Tap Energy Generation Of Stars

The word “politician” is almost an obscenity these days, but looking back at an event involving Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev and Jacques Chirac, we may be reminded politicians sometimes try to do good. In November 1985, these three large-than-life figures signed an agreement for a $12.8 billion International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) to be built in southern France.

What is even more notable is they probably had no idea what they were doing. After all, the agreement called for using fuel, a mixture of deuterium and trillium and two isotopes of hydrogen heated to more than 150 million °C, hoping it would solve the world’s energy challenges without “unintended consequences.” In fact, ITER required 22 years of intense and painstaking conceptual engineering and design before it could be officially christened viable, finally becoming an official organization in 2007.

ITER: Latin for “the way” or “the road”

In May, 2013 IndustryTap wrote “Can Fusion Energy Generate Unlimited Clean Energy by 2017?” about the current state of nuclear fusion. The ITER Cryosat Fusion Reactor, soon to be the world’s largest experimental tokamak nuclear fusion reactor, is under construction with opening expected in 2027. Using ITER, scientists will attempt to produce 10 times more thermal energy from fusion heating than by auxiliary heating; produce a steady-state plasma; maintain a sustained fusion pulse; ignite a self-sustaining, burning plasma, develop technologies needed for a full-scale fusion power plant, test tritium breeding concepts and refine neutron shield and heat conversion technology.

History of Tokamak Design

The Tokamak design was invented by Soviet physicists Igor Tamm and Andrei Sakharov in the 1950s. Tokamak reactors use four kinds of heating: ohmic, neutral-beam injection, magnetic compression and radio-frequency heating. Liquid helium and nitrogen are used to cool the reactor.

“Tokamak” is a transliteration of the Russian word  enter токамак, an acronym for “Toroidal Chamber With Axial Magnetic Field”. The Tokamak design has been widely adopted because scientists believe it provides the best environment in which to safely and efficiently run a fusion reaction.

In simpler terms, tokamak is a doughnut-shaped magnetic confinement reactor that suspends a fusion reaction inside the doughnut within electromagnetic fields. This is necessary because no solid material has yet been found or created that could withstand the extremely high temperatures, greater than 15 keV or 150 million degrees Celsius, of fusion plasma.

ITER’s website has papers, images, videos and interactive webpages that go into detail on all aspects of the project.

David Russell Schilling

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