Largest Fusion Reactor in France: The Need of the Hour
Though it took two years, it has finally happened for France. The world’s largest nuclear fusion reactor – International Thermonuclear Reactor (ITER) – with a price tag exceeding €5 billion is being built in Cadarache, France.
One might ask, why would any country or consortium of countries make such a costly investment? The answer is simple. Resources are depleting and world population is growing exponentially. Global energy consumption, for instance, is set to triple by the end of the century. Not only are fossil fuels exhausting but their use is damaging the environment. The energy source of fossil fuel – coal, oil and gas – has resulted in greenhouse effects and carbon dioxide emissions that have greatly damaged the environment. These adverse consequences have pushed countries to look into new avenues of finding energy sources that will not harmfully affect the greenhouse gases. The idea of ITER was conceived in a discussion at the Geneva Superpower Summit in 1985. It was the need of the hour. This groundbreaking 500-megawatt project is said to heat the plasma by generating ten times more energy than required.
The project began in 2007. The initial work has been long done. Site work comprised of the clearing of 90 hectares; and the leveling of a vast platform. A couple of years ago, the forest area at Cadarache was cleared off and bulldozers flattened the land. The target of clearing 90 hectares has been achieved, leaving half of the area in its original wooded state.
Site leveling, which began in March 2008, was completed in one year. The progress of the project has been tremendous as the flat platform is now 315 meters above sea level in comparison to the original altitude ranging from 290 to 335 meters. This landscape is now being used for construction of buildings and facilities of the ITER scientific experiments. The tall, 30-meter building that will accommodate the reactor is already under construction. The feature that makes this project site stand out the most today is the completed 42-hectare platform—the approximate size of 60 soccer fields—that will hold the scientific buildings and facilities.
The science behind the inner working of the fusion reactor is quite fascinating. The nuclear fusion converts matter into energy by using a very minimal amount of fuel. The 1000-megawatt reactor is very productive and proficient as one kilogram of hydrogen could generate electricity analogous to 11000 metric tons of coal, weighing as much as 10 cubes of sugar per hour.
But the question really is – what is the timeline of the project? It is a large scale project which will cost at least 30 percent more than the estimated cost. The construction of this breakthrough facility will take at least a decade more to be complete. In fact, the first commercial-scale fusion power plant will be ready after 2050!
Despite critics’ assessment of this project as a waste of money, many think it is a good investment. The engineers and technicians working on the project claim that when this fusion reactor is fully functional, having abundant clean energy will be truly possible. They hope that through the success of this project, dependence on fossil fuel will become a thing of the past and one day ITER will replace all nuclear-fission and coal-fired power plants. The world awaits with bated breath.