July 28, 2020 – Earlier today in the south of France, French President Emmanuel Macron and the leaders of the European Union, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States declared the official “machine assembly start” of the world’s largest fusion device.
The ITER machine – aka “the world’s largest science project” – is being created to replicate the fusion power of the sun. Fusion promises clean and reliable energy without carbon emissions; it uses minute amounts of fuel and, according to ITER, presents no physical possibility of a runaway fusion accident.
According to ITER, the fuel for fusion is found in seawater and lithium, and is abundant enough to supply humanity for millions of years. A pineapple-sized amount of this fuel is equivalent to 10,000 tonnes of coal.
“It is because of the remarkable promise of fusion that the ITER project was born,” says ITER. The 35 partner countries are the European Union (EU, plus UK and Switzerland), China, India, Japan, [South] Korea, Russia and the United States.
France is the host country. The EU (along with UK and Switzerland) is the host member, funding 45% of the cost of ITER. Each of the other members funds 9%. About 90% of ITER member contributions are made in kind, which adds international complexity to an already multifaceted machine called tokamak (for “Magnetic Torus”).
When completed, the tokamak will be made up of over a million components.
“Building the machine piece by piece will be like putting together a 3-dimensional puzzle on a complex timeline”, explains Dr Bernard Bigot, ITER General Manager. “Every aspect of project management, systems engineering, risk management and machine assembly logistics must perform with the precision of a Swiss watch.”
The assembly of the ITER machine will take 4.5 years. At the end of this assembly period (December 2025), ITER scientists and engineers will launch FIRST PLASMA, the first event demonstrating the functionality of the machine.
The ITER plant will produce around 500 MW of thermal energy and around 200 MW of electrical energy.
The cost of building and operating a fusion power plant should be similar to the cost of a nuclear fission power plant, but without the costs and long-term legacy of waste disposal. When ITER is completed, it should demonstrate that fusion energy can be sustainably generated on a commercial scale.
DID YOU KNOW?
ITER partners manufacture huge and unique components for ITER.
The CRYOSTAT is made by India. It is the “thermos” which surrounds the vacuum chamber of the tokamak and the superconducting magnets, which confine the super hot plasma. It is 30 m high and 30 m in diameter. It is the largest stainless steel vacuum chamber ever built. It has four main parts: the base, the lower cylinder, the upper cylinder and the upper cover. The lower cylinder is roughly the same size as Stonehenge. The base weighs 1250 tonnes, making it the heaviest ITER component.
ITER uses three types of tightly integrated magnets to contain, control, shape and pulse the Plasma at 150 million degrees Celsius. To make them SUPERCONDUCTORS, the magnets are cooled internally with liquid helium to -269 degrees Celsius—the temperature of interstellar space.
TOROIDDAL FIELD COILS (TF) are manufactured by Japan and Europe, with components from China, Korea and Russia. More than 40 companies are involved in the manufacture of the 18 TF coils. The coils confine the ionized plasma particles. Each is the height of a 4-storey building and weighs 360 tons.
POLOIDDAL FIELD COILS (PF), manufactured by China, Europe and Russia, are located outside the TF coil system. The PF coils shape the plasma and keep it away from the walls. There are six PF coils, ranging in diameter from 10m to 24m, and weighing up to 400 tonnes.
The CENTRAL SOLENOID (CS), made in the USA, is ITER’s strongest magnet. The CS is manufactured in 6 modules. When combined, it will rise 13m high (18m with the supporting structure) and weigh 1000 tons. The support structures will have to withstand forces equal to twice the thrust of a space shuttle takeoff. This component will have magnetic power to lift an aircraft carrier.
The VACUUM VASE, made by Korea and Europe (with protruding port tips supplied by Russia) is a hermetically sealed donut shaped stainless steel chamber. Inside, the plasma particles spiral continuously without touching the walls. The volume of plasma contained in the center of the ITER vacuum chamber is 10 times greater than any previous tokamak.
The building and assembly hall have been completed, joined by a 170 m overhead crane rail supporting two 750 tonne cranes that will transport and position the components.
The cryogenics facility, the world’s largest cryogenic plant, is 60% complete. It supplies liquid helium for the extremely low temperatures required for superconducting magnets. The equipment comes from China, India, Sweden, Czech Republic, Finland, Italy, Japan and France. Cryolins come mainly from India.
Magnet conversion buildings supplying energy at the precise voltage and amperage to ITER’s magnets use specially designed equipment from China, India, Korea and Russia.
More than 150 specialized tools, some weighing up to 800 tonnes, will be used to assemble, support and position the tokamak components.
DID YOU KNOW THAT may were the host country?
If things had worked differently, Canada might have hosted the ITER project in Clarington, Ontario, which is adjacent to the Darlington nuclear power plant (near Toronto).
Unfortunately, according to Simon Tuck of Globe & Mail, “Ottawa did not kill a Canadian bid to land a major and potentially lucrative international energy project near Toronto: the federal cabinet never made a decision at all.” (December 9, 2003)
Visit ITER here: www.iter.org
CLICK HERE for the YouTube recording of the Live event that happened earlier in France.
This article, along with other great content, also appears in the October 2020 edition of electrical business magazine.