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Page added on May 29, 2014

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An Overdue Reactor That Could Be the Key to Our Fusion Revolution

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An Overdue Reactor That Could Be the Key to Our Fusion RevolutionExpand

Even with the recent advancements in renewable energy technologies, it’s going to be tough to satisfy the electrical needs of our booming human population in the coming years. However, if this international nuclear reactor can ever come online, we may see fusion-driven, utility-scale power grids within our lifetimes.

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is an experimental tokamak nuclear fusion reactor located at the Cadarache scientific research facility in the south of France and grew out of earlier work around plasma physics. It’s being built as part of an international effort— involving the US, China, the EU, India, Japan, Russia, and South Korea—to harness and recreate the immensely potent energy production capabilities of our Sun. The ITER is, simply, a miniaturized sun serving as a proof of concept. If this reactor proves successful, safe, and stable, the lessons researchers learn and the date they collect will be leveraged to create a commercial-scale reactor.

An Overdue Reactor That Could Be the Key to Our Fusion RevolutionExpand

Even as a proof of concept, the ITER is enormous. It’s twice as big and 16 times as heavy as any other tokamak reactor ever built. The 830 cubic meter doughnut-shaped vacuum chamber, where a mix of deuterium and tritium isotopes are heated to 150 million degrees C to form plasma which is then confined and controlled via powerful superconducting magnetic coils, is 64 feet in diameter. These coils are necessary to keep the plasma from burning clear through the containment wall. The structure as a whole will be well over 100 feet tall, weigh 5,116 tons—double that of the Eiffel Tower—and produce 500 MW throughout its 20 year operational life.

When that operational life starts, however, is still up for debate. Crews first broke ground in 2007 with hopes of completing in 2016 but a seemingly endless string of delays and budget overruns have pushed the ribbon-cutting back more than a decade, to 2019 at the earliest. And though it is expected to start running in 2020, it likely won’t be running at full power until 2027. Given the current political situations among the seven participatory states that seems a rather optimistic timetable, still if it does prove successful, it could substantially alleviate—if not entirely eliminate—global energy demand. [ITERWiki]

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11 Comments on "An Overdue Reactor That Could Be the Key to Our Fusion Revolution"

  1. HARM on Thu, 29th May 2014 6:40 pm 

    I for one am pinning all my hopes on this (latest) experimental fusion gizmo in saving our collective asses and allowing exponential growth to continue forever! Who’s with me?

  2. Bob Owens on Thu, 29th May 2014 6:50 pm 

    Good Grief! This proof of concept machine on an optimistic timetable won’t be at full power until 2027! It is already over a decade behind schedule and way over-budget! And what are we trying to do? Why capture the heat of the sun in a magnetic bottle! I can’t stand it anymore! These machines will never be built.

  3. Norm on Thu, 29th May 2014 8:10 pm 

    Welfare Bums

  4. GregT on Thu, 29th May 2014 8:15 pm 

    It really is mind boggling, how we spend so much time trying to figure out how we’re going to keep all of our electric gizmos running, with so little thought expended on what we are going to eat.

    Just as long as we keep the office towers, condos, and malls air conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter, everything is going to be all right. Oh ya, sorry, I forgot about the internet, and cell phones, and digital cable. What was I thinking?

  5. Makati1 on Thu, 29th May 2014 8:46 pm 

    I’ve seen more realistic power systems in the new Star Trek movies.

    Dreams of the techno-relgion.

  6. Beery on Thu, 29th May 2014 8:55 pm 

    Way of the future, way of the future, way of the future, way of the future, way of the future, way of the future…

  7. SilentRunning on Thu, 29th May 2014 9:05 pm 

    >Even with the recent advancements in renewable energy technologies, it’s going to be tough to satisfy the electrical needs of our booming human population in the coming years.

    *THE ONLY* solution to the problems of our booming human population is STOP the population booming.

    Growing at the current rate of about 1% per year, in less than 10,000 years EVERY ATOM IN THE OBSERVABLE UNIVERSE would have to part of a human body.

  8. Perk Earl on Fri, 30th May 2014 3:58 am 

    ITER or bust!

  9. meld on Fri, 30th May 2014 4:27 am 

    There is no solution, get over that and you’ll be much happier and saner and start to actually do things that will help you, your offspring and your community

  10. bobinget on Fri, 30th May 2014 11:34 am 

    On this cooler than normal day in cloudless Southern Oregon our solar array is pumping out an average of 7,000 KW for most of ten hours every day.

    Thank you fusion.

    We already have several great examples of ‘fusion’.
    After every immigration cycle, beginning with Mexico we get another bunch of great ‘fusion’ dishes.

  11. Read on Fri, 30th May 2014 6:02 pm 

    The metallic structure part of the Eiffel Tower is around 7,000 tons.

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