Following on from last week’s blog ‘Science & Extreme Research’, we had a lot of feedback from website visitors who were interested to know more but did not want a detailed science lecture/ So here goes …
ITER is a machine, a Tokamak fusion reactor, where at extreme temperatures it recreates what is happening in the sun. The energy from the sun is created where hydrogen atoms are compressed and heated, fusing these atoms together and during this fusion, vast amounts of energy are released.
That’s okay in space where gravity applies the force to bring these atoms together in a plasma and at a safe distance from the earth, 93 million miles, but replicating this carbon free energy source on earth requires special containment.
The Tokamak fusion reactor is shaped like a giant doughnut weighing 23,000 tonnes. This is surrounded by massive powerful magnets which contain the plasma holding it away from the reactor walls as the plasma is at 150 million °C which is 10 times hotter than the core of sun. The heat is then used to generate electricity. The whole ITER Project’s purpose is not to produce and sell electricity but to prove that this system can do so and the following DEMO projects are to take this information forward into commercial reactors.
If ITER works and there are massive challenges, it will be a gigantic step forward in carbon free energy production but building ITER is not cheap and that’s why over 30 countries are participating in the project.
The site is over 180 hectares in size and needs a huge power supply of 50 MW as this is required to initiate the fusion process. The estimated energy generated will then be 500 MW
The previous smaller development JET (Joint European Torus) was considered a success, but that needed 24 MW of power to generate 16 MW, a net energy loss and hence the creation of ITER on a much larger scale to prove viability.
If ITER works as envisaged, DEMO projects will then develop a string of reactors worldwide with different sizes and capabilities removing the radioactive issues of Nuclear fission and the long half-life of the materials left from the process.
The vast cost of this project could be repaid many many times over if successful, but this is science at the extreme, requiring materials and technology that are at the cutting edge of what we can achieve today.