Assembly of the worlds largest fusion reactor (ITER) begins

In southern France, 35 nations* are collaborating to build the world's largest tokamak, a magnetic fusion device that has been designed to prove the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale and carbon-free source of energy.

ITER will be the first fusion device to produce net energy. ITER will be the first fusion device to maintain fusion for long periods of time. And ITER will be the first fusion device to test the integrated technologies, materials, and physics regimes necessary for the commercial production of fusion-based electricity.

Thousands of engineers and scientists have contributed to the design of ITER since the idea for an international joint experiment in fusion was first launched in 1985. The ITER Members—China, the European Union, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the United States—are now engaged in a 35-year collaboration to build and operate the ITER experimental device, and together bring fusion to the point where a demonstration fusion reactor can be designed.

The amount of fusion energy a tokamak is capable of producing is a direct result of the number of fusion reactions taking place in its core. Scientists know that the larger the vessel, the larger the volume of the plasma ... and therefore the greater the potential for fusion energy.

With ten times the plasma volume of the largest machine operating today, the ITER Tokamak will be a unique experimental tool, capable of longer plasmas and better confinement. The machine has been designed specifically to:

1) Produce 500 MW of fusion power
The world record for fusion power is held by the European tokamak JET. In 1997, JET produced 16 MW of fusion power from a total input heating power of 24 MW (Q=0.67). ITER is designed to produce a ten-fold return on energy (Q=10), or 500 MW of fusion power from 50 MW of input heating power. ITER will not capture the energy it produces as electricity, but—as first of all fusion experiments in history to produce net energy gain—it will prepare the way for the machine that can.

2) Demonstrate the integrated operation of technologies for a fusion power plant
ITER will bridge the gap between today's smaller-scale experimental fusion devices and the demonstration fusion power plants of the future. Scientists will be able to study plasmas under conditions similar to those expected in a future power plant and test technologies such as heating, control, diagnostics, cryogenics and remote maintenance.

3) Achieve a deuterium-tritium plasma in which the reaction is sustained through internal heating
Fusion research today is at the threshold of exploring a "burning plasma"—one in which the heat from the fusion reaction is confined within the plasma efficiently enough for the reaction to be sustained for a long duration. Scientists are confident that the plasmas in ITER will not only produce much more fusion energy, but will remain stable for longer periods of time.

4) Test tritium breeding
One of the missions for the later stages of ITER operation is to demonstrate the feasibility of producing tritium within the vacuum vessel. The world supply of tritium (used with deuterium to fuel the fusion reaction) is not sufficient to cover the needs of future power plants. ITER will provide a unique opportunity to test mockup in-vessel tritium breeding blankets in a real fusion environment.

5) Demonstrate the safety characteristics of a fusion device
ITER achieved an important landmark in fusion history when, in 2012, the ITER Organization was licensed as a nuclear operator in France based on the rigorous and impartial examination of its safety files. One of the primary goals of ITER operation is to demonstrate the control of the plasma and the fusion reactions with negligible consequences to the environment.

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Wow, that is fascinating.

I had no idea this was even happening, yet it's been going on for over 14 years... and just 5 more years before we see it operational.

This is damned exciting stuff.



Good news and bad news then. ITER isn't really a 'test', science wise it's pretty much assured that it is gonna work. So that's good news. The bad news, this thing is also as small as current known science allows us to make it while still producing usable power. Economically, it's already completely and totally unusable. Thus the hope is to make more new discoveries running this to find ways to make it economically viable.


As has been the case for my entire lifetime, we are 20-40 years from having a fusion plant.


Oh yes I take ITER as good news, but it still leaves us 20 - 40 years from a... well I wanted to write a commercial fusion plant, however that might be a trifle optimistic.

Lets say we are at best 20-40 years from a functional prototype of a commercialy viable plant.

ITER is very much a test, any way you bend it. DEMO is waiting for ITERs outcome. Of course ITER will work, tokamaks have operated since the 1960s, that is like claiming a rocket will almost certainly fly. Yet we still stand in awe when it does.

It took 50 years from Einsteins nearly blind-guess prediction of a physical phenomenon to fission power plants. 50 years from the Orvilles hops to jet passenger planes. 58 years from Ciolkovskys crazy drawings to a man in space. In my grandfathers lifetime we went from horse-drawn carriages to the SR-71.
In my lifetime we have gone from landing on the moon to almost maybe landing there again some time.

We are slowing down or the going is getting more difficult.


Good news and bad news then.

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