ITER: Just Another Nuclear Power Plant?

While in many parts of the world countries have been moving away from nuclear energy, or at least moving forward with heightened caution; the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), has been in the making for decades to work towards the future of nuclear energy. The development of ITER, a Fusion reactor, is a multinational collaboration of 35 nations: China, the European Union, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the United States to build the world’s largest tokamak in the South of France. A tokamak is a “magnetic fusion device that has been designed to prove the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale and carbon-free source of energy,” and this ITER tokamak will be the first of its kind with regards to the future of nuclear research.

In addition to being the largest tokamak, ITER is designed to produce ten times the amount of return energy of 500 MW from 50 MW of input heat power and will be the first fusion device that will produce net energy. This will break the world record for fusion by the European tokamak Jet in 1997 that was able to produce 16MW of fusion power from the imputing heating power of 24 MW. Further, ITER will be the first fusion machine that will test the integrated technologies, materials, and physics regimes that will necessary for the commercial production of fusion energy and will maintain fusion for longer periods. The research that is being done today, in fusion, is looking towards examining “burning plasma,” where the heat from fusion reaction is confined in the plasma precisely enough for the reaction to be sustained for a longer duration of time. Also, based off of this current research, ITER will produce more fusion energy and remain stable for longer periods of time. Through these developments at ITER, it will be possible for scientists to study plasmas under the condition of what is expected of the future power plants and test technologies such as heating, control, diagnostics, cryogenics, and remote maintenance.

Overall, the developments, experiments, and research that will be carried out at ITER is significant for the progression of fusion science and the development the future of nuclear energy, specifically fusion power plants. ITER has the possibility to provide better energy security for the future through its research, which will improve the efficiency of power plants. Currently, ITER’s First Plasma is scheduled for December 2025.

Grace Slembrouck


Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

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