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World’s Largest Fusion Reactor will Harness the Power of the Sun

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Human development and functionality are largely dependent on the constant availability of electricity. Nearly every piece of technology new and old is heavily reliant on a constant supply of energy. As such, humans have a massive taxing demand for more power, power that is often accumulated through less than desirable means. Be it burning fossil fuels or hydroelectric dams, all current power generators tax the environment to some degree. However, what if you could abolish all detrimental effects of current power generation with a generator able to produce one million times more energy than any chemical reaction- and use it to harness virtually unlimited power?

It seems like an engineering fantasy, however, the answer looms directly overhead. Fusion energy, the energy that powers the sun and every other star across the cosmos. It is the fusion of two particles, releasing a vast amount of energy to essentially unlimited ends. Hydrogen, the most abundant element on Earth and the universe comprise the fuel supply. Tapping into fusion energy would provide virtually unlimited power with no carbon emissions, and no adverse side effects dealt unto the environment.

Early on in the 1900s, it was largely recognized as potentially being the most effective means of acquiring energy. However, scientists were incredibly naive, assuming generating and harvesting power from fusion generators would be easy. In the 1930’s, physicists were already conducting the first experiments into fusion generation. However, it was not until 1968 that a major milestone was achieved in producing the two of the three critical conditions necessary to initiate the fusion process.

t1_1World’s First Tokamak Device Russian T1 Tokamak at the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow. Accumulating just 0.4 cubic meters of plasmas, the device is 2000 times smaller than the world’s largest tokamak currently in development, the ITER [Image Source: ITER]

The device used in the experiment was conducted with the use of a tokamak– essentially a donut apparatus that utilizes strong magnetic fields to heat up and contain plasma within at temperatures exceeding that of the Sun. The tokamak became an essential component of thermonuclear research and still to this day is being used to further development into producing a viable fusion reactor.

The tokamaks function by pumping a gas into a vacuum chamber with electricity being pumped through the center (the hole of the doughnut). The gas accumulates a large charge and begins to heat up, but is confined by the intense magnetic fields generated by massive magnetic coils encircling the device.

Hurdles yet to be achieved

While the team devised a method in satisfying two of the conditions in creating a fusion reactor, developing a functional model proved to be uncannily difficult. It was not until 1991 that the first controlled release of fusion power was achieved. The generator, however, required many times more power input that what was produced, an obviously poor means and unviable way of producing electricity.

Fusion Energy

To initiate a fusion reaction, three conditions must be satisfied- that including: incredibly high temperatures (to stimulate high-energy collisions); adequate plasma particle density (to ensure a higher likelihood for collisions to occur); and a sufficient amount of time in which the plasma is to be confined (to retain the plasma, which has a tendency to expand, in a defined volume). Entirely opposite to a fission reaction in which requires and expels highly radioactive material, fusion oversees particles fuse together in which releases immense amounts of energy in the form of heat, only requiring hydrogen as fuel and produces nearly no radioactive waste.

Only when all three components are satisfied will the fusion process be initiated.

The reactors will use two radioactive isotopes of hydrogen, deuterium, and tritium, to fuse together and create helium with one highly energized neutron which then speeds off to initiate the next reaction. In this method, a looping mechanism can be created to initiate a self-sufficient device.

2000px-Deuterium-tritium_fusion.svgFusion Process [Image Source: Wikipedia]

The largest issue in creating a viable fusion reactor is developing a device able so sustain the immense pressure and temperatures of the plasma which approach 100 million degrees- 6 times hotter than the core of the Earth. While scientists have achieved temperatures with a tokamak exceeding just under 50 million degrees Celsius, the experiment lasted just 102 seconds before the plasma collapsed back into its stable form. Up until now, creating sustainable conditions in which to produce a functional fusion reaction has remained entirely elusive.

To achieve power generation, fusion scientists must meet the plasma energy breakeven point- a point in which the plasmas within a fusion device expel at a minimum of the same amount of energy as is used to initiate the process. As of today, the moment is yet to be achieved. However, the current would record for energy releases was able to generate 70 percent of the input power. The record is still held by JET.

Now, however, after nearly 60 years of fusion energy research and development, engineers and scientists are readying the final stages of the world’s largest tokamak reactor to initiate and sustain the word’s first nuclear fission generator with a positive output of energy. The  project is an international collaboration with the aim of generating an experimental fusion reactor said to be self-sustaining- essentially harnessing the power of a small star. The project, deemed ITER, is currently well underway.

What is ITER

ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor)  is an international collaboration of nations in an effort to create the world’s first self-sustaining thermonuclear reactor in which exceeds the breakeven point. The generator is currently being developed and promises a revolution in power generation in the 21 century. If it functions as planned, it will generate 500 MW of output power while only consuming 50 MW of input, rewriting a new chapter in history as the generation which harvested the power of the stars.

Spanning across a distance of 42  hectares, the plant will employ over 5,000 people during peak construction hours. It will be the largest tokamak reactor ever built, measuring 8 times the volume of the next largest tokamak.

How does it work?

The monstrous apparatus will be the world’s largest tokamak, with a plasma radius (R) of 6.2 m and a plasma volume of 840 m³. The heart of the reactor remains the massive magnetic coils wrapped around the tokamak, an essential component in confining the temperatures which will approach 150 million degrees C. As all other tokamaks, the massive vessel will charge a gaseous fuel contained by immense magnetic fields. Using extraordinary amounts of electricity will force the gas to break down and become ionized as electrons are stripped from the nuclei. Plasmas will then be formed.

The plasma particles will continue to become energized at they continue to collide at increasing intervals and intensities. Auxillery heating methods will further the plasma temperature’s until fusion temperatures are reached at 150 to 300 million °C. The highly energized particles will be able to overcome the natural electromagnetic repulsion, enabling the particles to collide and fuse, releasing immense amounts of energy.

What will it do?

The first milestone will be creating a functional, self-sustaining thermonuclear reactor, a world first. Aside from the initial development, ITER has set a few goals.
1) Produce 500 MW of fusion power for pulses of 400 s
ITER has its sight set on producing 500MW of power, a 10 fold increase from its power input. The goal is then to sustain the plasma for at least 400 seconds.

2) Demonstrate the integrated operation of technologies for a fusion power plant
ITER pledges to bridge the gap between experimental fusion devices and a functional generator, demonstrating the capabilities of fusion power plants for the future. With the massive device, scientists will still be able to study the plasmas under similar conditions expected to be found in future fusion power plants.

3) Achieve a deuterium-tritium plasma in which the reaction is sustained through internal heating
Ideally, once the device is turned on, scientists are confident the machine will remain self-sustaining, with the only power input being utilized to power the massive electromagnets.

4) Test tritium breeding
Tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, could be a critical component in developing future power plants. However, with a diminishing supply that is already short in demand, the first generators will need to demonstrate the feasibility of producing tritium in order to sustain other reactors.

5) Demonstrate the safety characteristics of a fusion device
In 2012, ITER received a licensing as a nuclear operator in France and became the first in the world to have undergone copious amounts of examination pertaining to its safety. One of the primary goals of ITER is to demonstrate plasma and fusion reactions will create negligible consequences to the environment.

The future of/is fusion

As humans progress into the 21 century, an emphasis is being placed on creating sustainable, environmentally friendly. With successful thermonuclear reactor tests making increasingly common milestones in fusion generation, it is becoming evident perhaps one day soon the world will rely once more on the power of the stars, except this time, to our own accord. The progression and development of such reactors remain promising. It is only a matter of time before  large integration of functional facilities is developed. With no chance of a nuclear meltdown, nearly no radioactive waste, and an essentially virtually unlimited supply of energy provides a hopeful future in which humans will significantly reduce the footprint currently being imprinted onto the Earth.

50 Comments on "World’s Largest Fusion Reactor will Harness the Power of the Sun"

  1. ghung on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 9:07 am 

    If/when successful (BIG if), those who control the fusion reactors will control the world, until all of our other predicaments reach full speed.

    The problem isn’t our energy sources. The problem is our behavior. Fusion can’t fix that.

  2. Cloggie on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 9:12 am 

    The article doesn’t mention the recent progress made with the Wendelstein 7-X in Greifswald, Germany:

    It is smaller and hence faster progress can be made. Testing began in December 2015 and since that time 2200 succesfull generations of very hot plasma succeeded:

    A gradual increase of stable plasma time from 0.5 to 6 seconds was achieved, with temp at 100 million degrees Celcius for 1 second, much better than expected.

    The machine is currently redesigned and from mid 2017 tests are scheduled to be resumed. Goal: 8 MW net thermal energy for 10 seconds.

    In a next step with a timeframe of another 4 years, energy generation of 10 MW during 30 minutes is hoped to be achieved.

  3. penury on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 9:47 am 

    Hooray, the world is saved again. Call me when the first usable energy has been produced.

  4. Dan from MV on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 10:57 am 

    Just 10 years away.

    Always, just 10 years away….

  5. Go Speed Racer on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 11:02 am 

    There is a better way to produce power.

    Some large hamster wheels.
    We can selectively breed the hamsters,
    so they have more endurance and run
    more hours of the day.

  6. Bradley Green on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 11:17 am 

    so in the end you heat to make steam to turn a turbine
    how is the heat managed?

    BTW we already have a fusion reactor up and running.
    It produces nearly all the energy we use including the food we eat.

  7. Jmariani on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 11:28 am 

    Always 30 years away and unnecessary. The headline is misleading. We are already harnessing the power of the sun in all our energy uses except fission and geothermal.

    Solar, wind, tidal and more can easily supply earth’s energy needs. Distributed power generation via advanced rooftop solar could drastically reduce the need for power plants of all kinds.

  8. Buzz on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 11:43 am 

    Free or nearly free energy certainly would be a step in the right direction to help change our behavior.

  9. HARM on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 11:48 am 


    You were being sarcastic, right?

  10. Anonymous on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 11:49 am 

    Article says

    ” The generator, however, required many times more power input that what was produced, an obviously poor means and unviable way of producing electricity.”

    Ya think? Pretty much sums up the last 60 years give or take, of fusion research.

  11. HARM on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 11:52 am 

    Fusion! The energy of the future 50 years ago, today and 50 years from today.

    “The sun’ll come out Tomorrow
    So ya gotta hang on ’til tomorrow
    Come what may…

    Tomorrow! Tomorrow!
    I love ya, Tomorrow!

    You’re always a day awaaaaay!”

  12. ghung on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 12:03 pm 

    Jmariani said; “Solar, wind, tidal and more can easily supply earth’s energy needs. Distributed power generation via advanced rooftop solar could drastically reduce the need for power plants of all kinds.”

    I challenge you to take a really hard look at the math (all of it) of replacing even 50% of fossil fuel use with alternatives and get back to us.

    Buzz said; “Free or nearly free energy certainly would be a step in the right direction to help change our behavior.”

    How would that behavior differ from the energy bonanza of the last 200 years? Just askin’, because the consequences of having all of this fossil fuel energy go well beyond our carbon problem.

  13. Zippy on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 12:11 pm 

    I first worked on a fusion project in 1978 and fusion was “20 years away”. Today it is still 20 years. The break through needed will come from independent research, everything the government touches becomes too expensive and takes too much time. Than there is the starting and stopping routine. The US was leading ITER, then we backed out and later got into the game. If you remember SSC we were going to build a accelerator much bigger than CERN, but after spending a bundle of money we stopped.

  14. Chester on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 12:16 pm 

    Fusion is a technology that MAY work. It’s incredibly expensive. Molten salt Thorium (fission) power is a technology that has been proven. It’s far safer, much less expensive, and thorium is far more abundant than Deuterium, let alone Tritium, Plutonium or U235! Power plants utilizing the technology are currently being built in India and China.

  15. Joe Hoey on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 12:17 pm 

    Fusion IS THE WAVE OF THE FUTURE! All of the sarcasm, the jokes, the put downs… or worst of all, the lack of faith in the technology will change the facts. I work in the oil business right now, and I see what it has generated world wide in terms of distrust of nations, wars over finance, but worst of all… the pollution of our planet. We had better embrace the technology, and pray mankind survives long enough to enjoy this unlimited supply of necessary energy. In the interim we will still have to conserve resources, go with renewable energy sources, and learn to work together to simply survive…

  16. Newfie on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 12:25 pm 

    Fusion power generation may not be possible. Nature may forbid it outside the interior of stars.

  17. Alan McIntire on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 12:26 pm 

    I’ve been reading stories like this since I was 10 years old. I’m now 65, and fusion power is STILL in the near futue.

  18. dissident on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 12:33 pm 

    Toroidal magnetically confined fusion is something humans are trying to create without precedent (that we are aware of) and there is zero guarantee it will ever work. Stars produce fusion by gravitational compression and there are no plasma stability issues and loss of energy due to contact with the reactor wall in stellar interiors.

    Recent results seem to indicate that large fusion reactors have a better chance of breaking even than smaller ones due to a natural scaling effect that results in more confinement and less loss of energy to the reactor wall. But whether this will be enough to finally put us over the brink is yet to be determined.

  19. alex on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 12:50 pm 

    what about Tesla ?! Oooo right, IF we do use Tesla’s device, BYE BYE income from PETROL and so on .. !

  20. Kevin on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 12:55 pm 

    The pursuit of the free lunch continues.

  21. HARM on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 1:07 pm 

    @Joe Hoey,

    Do you really think that if humanity is already so far into overshoot (and causing the sixth global extinction) and fighting endless wars over existing resources, that making energy virtually free and unlimited would somehow improve our behavior?

    Even if cheap fusion power somehow becomes practical (unlikely given the track record), would people reproduce or consume *less*? Would we have *more* respect for the thousands of other species we are now driving to extinction? Would cheap unlimited energy make us *less* greedy, shortsighted or violent?

  22. shortonoil on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 1:43 pm 

    Unlimited zero point energy will be here in 10 years. Well, maybe twenty, well definitely after you are dead. Cheer up!

  23. Ben Felt on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 2:05 pm 

    I thought our sun was World’s Largest Fusion Reactor?

  24. steve from virginia on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 2:13 pm 

    A fusion reactor that costs $20 billion dollars … (or euro equivalent)

    … that is intended to produce baseload electricity @ 8¢ per kilowatt hour.

    Hmmm … there is something wrong with this picture.

  25. Apneaman on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 2:33 pm 

    Joe Hoey “faith in the technology”. Faith is belief without proof. When I see it built and deployed at a price the humans can afford then I will believe it.

  26. shortonoil on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 2:53 pm 

    “Hmmm … there is something wrong with this picture.”

    A 1000 MegaWatt plant would have to run for 685 years to produces $20 billion worth of power at 8¢ per kilowatt hour.

    Nothing wrong here, they are just going to build one BIG plant.

    Actually, its the price, you’ll be paying $100 per kilowatt hour.

  27. T-man on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 2:56 pm 

    I’m i thought thier was some breakthrough, some one did fugure it out, and was almost killed becuase of that, so he put his file’s online.

    He proved that Tesla was the real seincetist of his time.

  28. David Whitaker on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 3:13 pm 

    Weird… I remeber fusion energy just being around the corner in the 1970’s when I was a teenager. They are still working in it. Why bother? Photo-voltaic cells can harvest the power of a natural fusion reactor and are currently cheaper than coal. In a few years, photo-voltaic cells will be cheaper than natural gas. When and if controlled fusion energy works I don’t think it will be cheaper than solar energy from the sun. Sorry.

  29. peakyeast on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 3:39 pm 

    @David: It is because of the power over other people it gives.

    Solar and wind is difficult to get to support centralized power.

    Always assume the worst about humans. Normally you will still be erring on the good side.

  30. Anthony Maista on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 3:45 pm 


  31. Julius Mazzarella on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 3:52 pm 

    Sounds pretty good….but I don’t think I can finish cleaning my cloths and cooking in 400 seconds. And that’s all it runs for before it stops. Oh well , I wonder what it costs to restart it?

  32. Michael Louis on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 3:59 pm 

    I was never a big supporter of induced nuclear fusion. The main reason was always the rest-risk of radioactive contamination. But I am now convinced that brake even is near and that nuclear fusion driven craft will propel us to the stars, particularly to the 100 or so stars in the direct neighborhood of our solar system. And I am convinced that this may happen already in the mid 2030s. Rosatom will actually start it in 1.5 years. But to reach the capability to move at 30 to 50 % of the speed of light will take another decade or so. The ISS could be the core of an interplanetary or even interstellar space craft, propped up by hundreds of Falcon Heavy / SLS 2nd stages that are re-used as tech & habitat modules to upgrade the ISS core. The final craft must contain massive high-level research & manufacturing facilities in order to be able to independently upgrade the drive in-flight and in-situ.

  33. Go Speed Racer on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 4:00 pm 

    Me and Chester get it. Liquid salt Thorium fuel is the way to go. Because it would solve the problem, it is not allowed to be worked on.

    Me and Chester get it. The rest of you just don’t get it.

  34. peakyeast on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 4:03 pm 

    GSR: How will it solve the 100 other problems that are just as critical and in the same timeframe?

    Just start with the 10 I listed recently.

  35. John Beall on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 4:15 pm 

    Come On all of this just to boil Water to run a Turbine!! Give me a Break. You need to produce an internal Magnetic Field to produce enough EMF to produce Electric power Also One need’s to compress it’s Core to and produce a gravitational Field to be self powered and perhaps an Regenerative power feed back into the power source. Great Idea anyway, Keep Churning away!!!!

  36. Equal time on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 4:35 pm 

    When we actually get working fusion generators global warming will become an even bigger problem.

  37. Captain Kirk on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 4:48 pm 

    I am just waiting for Scotty to come out of the control room with an Ikea allen wrench, schematics and 4 extraneous parts coupled with a confused look.

  38. peakyeast on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 4:51 pm 

    @equal: Yeah, but then we just convert all the rising seawater into hydrogen for our flying “cars” – problem solved. LOL

  39. dave reichard on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 6:03 pm 

    The widespread inception of these power plants’use beyond our current generating capacity will generate extra heat into the world.In the worst case,it might contribute further to global warming.Responsible scientists could forecast how much excess heat would be generated at various levels of added energy production.Inevitably,if this new power is cheap enough,its uses will expand.Developing nations are already planning to need extra energy.

  40. Bill on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 6:33 pm 

    So many opinions. So many negative opinions. Curious. Fusion was expected sooner. By some, but not so much. And by many, never. So the progress is real. The timeline longer than some expected. Equating success with meeting unknown deadlines is not what science is about. By now we were also supposed to have robots in every home. Chill for a minute. Things are still in motion. And yes thank goodness for the Molten Salt Thorium fission. That’s a much needed alternative to the currently still used immensely destructive and relentlessly dangerous means of producing fission based power. Not to mention waste storage that will be dangerous essentially forever (to anyone alive now). To me that demonstrates a far greater short-sightedness than investing in the possibility of a infinitely cleaner essentially unlimited supply of energy, whatever the obstacles to it’s realization.

  41. makati1 on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 6:57 pm 

    Bill, real progress does not take decades and hundreds of billions. These dreams will NEVER materialize on this planet.

    The whole financial system / economy that supports such debacles will soon be history. Tech and many other “careers” exist because we had a lot of “excess” energy to waste in the past. Not so in the future. Only necessary careers will exist in the near future and nuclear physics will not be one of them. We have enough now to shut down the nuclear system. No more required. They can sell apples on the street soon.

  42. Anonymous on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 7:20 pm 

    Fun facts

    Total number of commercial Molten Salt Thorium fission in service today: 0

    Number of commercial fusion reactors in service today(lol): 0

    Combined amount of Kw/h of energy produced by all test Molten Salt reactors:
    Net negative energy after all direct and indirect inputs that went into the few installations actually constructed for that purpose.

    Combined amount of Kw/h of energy produced by fusion research reactors:

    Its negative, deeply negative. No one likely even knows how much of an energy sink fusion has been, but its likely not trivial. It may well be impossible to even guesstimate how deep in the red fusion research is, energy wise(and will continue to be).

  43. frank on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 7:22 pm 

    The future is now … and it is a thorium fueled fission reactor. Super simple. Super safe. Scalable. Why do we not use the simple safe technology that already exists? Seriously – a 300 million degree reaction – in a plant that is a hundred times larger than a conventional plant? I’m all for R&D – but I’m also for using what makes good sense and what is already available.

  44. Joe D on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 7:24 pm 

    Bullshit, pure unadulterated bullshit.

    Educate yourself of forever continue to be amazed by bullshit.

  45. Dansays on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 8:32 pm 

    Take all the worlds politicians and their minions, put them in a confined area and the hot air will power the planet forever

  46. Sissyfuss on Wed, 31st Aug 2016 8:27 am 

    If you could make weapons of mass destruction from the byproducts of a thorium reactor, we would had in operation decades ago. Now we are in a race to produce new energy sources before the old standbys stand down. Place your bets people, there’s a whole world riding on them.

  47. HARM on Wed, 31st Aug 2016 1:08 pm 

    “If you could make weapons of mass destruction from the byproducts of a thorium reactor, we would had in operation decades ago.”

    Sissyfuss has a valid point. The main reason the U.S. and allies went with uranium and plutonium-based LWR designs during the Cold Ware is thermonuclear weapons. It might very well be possible for Thorium-based MSRs to the job more safely, cheaply and with far less waste. Which we can’t know until someone actually tries it.

  48. Go Speed Racer on Wed, 31st Aug 2016 7:20 pm 

    Stick s chimney on top of that fusion chamber. Fill it up with old tires, tree trunks, and cans of gas. At least that way you will get some heat out of it.

  49. simonr on Fri, 2nd Sep 2016 6:16 am 

    the physics of water is well understood and predictable.

    The physics of liquid salt is not so predictable or easily understood, that’s the reason we don’t make em.

    but if you prefer conspiracy, go get em

  50. peakyeast on Fri, 2nd Sep 2016 7:39 am 

    Thorium reactors has been tried and is being tried.

    They have their very own set of problems – that thorium enthusiats ignore.

    But, I agree, it might have been possible to solve those problems if the same time and effort had been invested as in other types of reactors.

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