The world’s largest experimental nuclear fusion reactor is in development in Provence, southern France. ITER (originally the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) is an international nuclear fusion research and engineering megaproject funded and run by seven member entities: the European Union, China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States; Overall, 35 countries are participating in the project directly or indirectly. The project was initiated in 1988 and is expected to start full deuterium-tritium fusion experiments in 2035. That’s a very long project time. The Manhattan Project to develop the world’s first nuclear weapon lasted for 6 years. One would be correct to assume that it must be a behemoth of a task with far-reaching consequences for humanity. As Matt McGrath rightly titles his BBC article –‘Nuclear fusion is a question of when, not if’, how long will it take us to produce energy using nuclear fusion?
WHAT IS NUCLEAR FUSION?
Nuclear fusion is the process that powers the sun and the stars. Fusion is the fusing of two or more atoms to form different atomic nuclei and subatomic particles. The mass lost in the process is converted to energy. For the nuclei of two atoms to overcome the aversion to one another caused by having the same charge, high temperatures and pressures are required. Temperatures must reach approximately six times those found in the core of the sun. At this heat, the hydrogen is no longer a gas but a plasma, an extremely high-energy state of matter where electrons are stripped from their atoms.
WHY NUCLEAR FUSION AND NOT FISSION?
With the money, time, and effort being spent on this project, the question arises if it’s worth it? Can we improve the way by which we produce nuclear energy? The biggest problem with nuclear fission is the storage of dangerous radioactive end products.