The assembly of the ITER fusion reactor began in the south of France this week in what has been called the biggest science project in human history. It is hoped the reactor will be able to produce clean energy using the same process that fuels the sun.
“In this space we are going to have a machine in the heart of which a small sun will burn, to put it very simply. This small sun will generate energy. We will use that energy to create electricity,” ITER spokesperson Robert Arnoux told AFP.
Fusion will be obtained through a mixture of two hydrogen isotopes, heated to a temperature of around 150 million degrees.
The fuels used for fusion are found in seawater and lithium.
The moment was historic. Ten years after the start of construction in August 2010, ITER was marking a new chapter in its long history. In the months and weeks that preceded Tuesday’s event, several strategic components had been delivered to the construction site—among them one toroidal field coil from Europe and two from Japan. The first vacuum vessel sector from Korea was unloaded at Marseille harbour on 22 July and is expected on site in a little more than a week.
“As we launch the assembly phase of the ITER machine,” said ITER Director-General Bernard Bigot in his introductory address, “we feel the weight of history. It is now one hundred years since scientists first understood that fusion energy was the power source for the Sun and stars and some six decades since the first tokamak was built in the Soviet Union… […] We feel the need for both urgency and patience. We know we need a replacement for fossil fuels as soon as possible. […] We are moving forward as rapidly as possible … If we succeed, it will be worth all the time and effort that have brought us to this point.”