Energy of stars: €19bn fusion reactor “to be in place by 2021”

All the main elements for the world’s first fusion reactor will be in place by 2021 and "first plasma" should be achieved by 2025, the head of the international team building it in the south of France told journalists Wednesday (10 October).

Large tanks needed to hold the facility together had arrived from China and the US, and had been positioned, said Bernard Bigot, head of the 35-nation project to build the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter).

One of the tanks for the water cooling system being craned into position (Iter)

The Iter tokamak reactor aims to reproduce the hydrogen-to-helium reaction found in stars to produce limitless supplies of clean energy.

But first scientists must work out how to confine the charged plasma in an intense magnetic field, because any physical barrier would be destroyed.

That means they must create a reaction that produces more energy for consumption than is needed to generate the field that confines it.

A preliminary aim is to create and contain a plasma for about 20 minutes, after which work could begin on the commercial exploitation of its experimental findings.

By 2021, the components needed to build the 20m-diameter magnetic torus and accelerate the nuclei of hydrogen – which will fuse to form helium – will be on site, Bigot said.

The building that will house it will be completed by the spring next year, he added.

The project is funded by China, the EU, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the US, much of it in the form of donated hardware.

The EU is paying around 46% of the €19bn that the project is expected to cost until 2035, although the US Department of Energy has suggested that €56bn might be a more likely estimate for the total construction cost.

Top image: Some 800 tonnes of concrete have been used to make the structure that will support the reactor (Iter)

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