Clean, Renewable Energy: A Dream of Fusion Back on Track
Clean, clear, safe sustainable energy. Isn’t that what we all want – without worrying about whether or not we are harming the environment, or if it is going to run out anytime soon? Now that the Iter project is back on track, it is a distinct possibility.
Iter, or International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, is located at the Cadarache facility in the south of France and is the world’s largest experimental nuclear fusion reactor. The reactor will essentially copy the process that the sun uses to generate energy – fusing atoms together that ultimately leads to transferring energy as heat.
Engineers have completed designs for the last major part of the Iter called the “blanket”, which is the part that will handle the superheated nuclear fuel. Now that the blanket has been designed, the project can move to the construction stage.
At the moment, the energy that we see today in nuclear power plants is nuclear fission. Fission is the process of splitting a large atom into two or more smaller pieces, whereas nuclear fusion is a reaction that fuses two smaller atoms into a larger one with the release of energy.
If Iter is a success it has the potential to be far safer than nuclear plants around at the moment – fusion power generating a lot less radioactive waste than fission power and providing three-to-four times the amount of energy. Many energy experts argue that, although a slow process, nuclear fusion is the only possibility for creating the amount of continuous energy that the world needs, without having to resort to fossil fuels or fission nuclear power.
The coordinator of Iter assembly, Ken Blackler, says that the construction is taking so long because the whole system is very complicated. The individual parts of Iter are made all over the world and then have to be shipped to Cadarache, with added problems with import taxes. All parts of Iter need to arrive in the right order so that it can be built each step at a time. Blackler said, “We’ve now started for real. Industrial manufacturing is under way so the timescale is much more certain – many technical challenges have been solved.” The actual building of Iter is due to start later this year and hopefully completed by May 2021.
Iter’s deputy director, Dr Carlos Alejaldre, is responsible for safety and has said, “It is the largest scientific collaboration in the world. In fact, the project is so complex we even had to invent our own currency – known as the Iter Unit of Account – to decide how each country pays its share.”
He went on to say, “We’ve passed from the design stage to being a construction project. We will have to show it is safe. If we cannot convince the public that this is safe, I don’t think nuclear fusion will be developed anywhere in the world.”
We could be enjoying the safe and clean energy provided by Iter in under a decade, and doing something positive for our environment and our children in the future.