What is ITER?

“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(Agence France-Presse).

Now to be more confined ,ITER(International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) is an international project that hopes to create clean energy from hydrogen fusion, the same process that occurs naturally in the heart of the sun.

It is a project which actually trying to create worlds largest Tokamak, which an experimental machine that is planned to harness the energy of fusion.


What is Tokamak?

If you look to the Power plants today, they basically rely either on fossil fuels, nuclear fission, or renewable sources like wind, solar energy, and water. Whichever energy generation source you may consider, every plant generates electricity based on the conversion of mechanical energy, such as the rotation of a turbine, into electrical power.

The term “Tokamak” comes to us from a Russian acronym that stands for “toroidal chamber with magnetic coils.” The Tokamak is an experimental machine designed to harness the energy of fusion. Inside a tokamak, the fusion of atoms is absorbed as heat in the walls of the vessel which thereby leads to the generation of energy. Just like a conventional power plant, this will use this heat to produce steam and then electricity with the help of turbines and generators.

The heart of a tokamak, the core of it is a doughnut-shaped vacuum chamber. Inside it, in the presence of extreme heat and pressure, such that the gaseous hydrogen fuel becomes plasma and the preferred environment, in which hydrogen atoms can be brought to fuse and hence produce energy. Now, the charged particles of the plasma can be shaped and controlled by the massive magnetic coils placed around the vessel. 

First developed by Soviet Research in the late 1960s, the tokamak has been adopted around the world as the most promising and reliable magnetic fusion devices.

ITER will be the world’s largest tokamak—twice the size of the largest machine currently in operation, with ten times the plasma chamber volume.

The Journey till now and to be...

ITER was set in a motion at the Geneva Superpower Summit in late 1985 by The European Union, Japan, The Soviet Union, and The US. The Conceptual Design of the project started 3 years later with the final plans approved by the member states in 2001.

South Korea, China, and India joined the programme in 2003 and after that, the building site was chosen two years later.

Each member was allocated with the task of procuring components and systems.

  • The Central Solenoid(a type of electromagnet )is a collaboration between the US and Japan.
  • Divertor manufacturing and testing were divided between Europe, Russia and Japan.
  • India and the US joined efforts to produce the cooling water systems.
  • The blanket system is to be produced by China, Europe, Korea, Russia and the US.
  • And The fabrication of the ITER vacuum vessel sectors was divided between Europe and Korea.

European members are alone, providing 45 per cent of the estimated €13 billion required with the rest to each country and each covering 9.1 per cent.

Site Chosen
The decision to site the project in France
Agreement Signed

Signature of the ITER Agreement

Organization created
Formal creation of the ITER Organization
Site Adjustment
Land clearing and leveling
Foundation created
The Ground support structure and seismic foundations for the Tokamak
And in 2012,
Nuclear licensing milestone: ITER becomes a Basic Nuclear Installation under French law
Construction of Building
Construction of the Tokamak Building (access for assembly activities in 2019).
Construction of the ITER plant and auxiliary buildings for First Plasma and also the manufacturing of  The Principal First Plasma components.
Acquiring the Components

Largest components are transported along the ITER Itinerary

Assemble phase 1
Main assembly phase I
Also by 2022,
Torus is expected to be completed. 
Cryostat closure
Integrated commissioning phase (commissioning by system starts several years earlier)
Dec 2025
First Plasma is planned to be created
Final Phase

Progressive ramp-up of the machine

Deuterium-Tritium Operation begins

What do we want from ITER to do?

The amount of fusion energy a tokamak is capable of producing is a direct result of the number of fusion reactions taking place within its core. And the thesis behind it , the larger the chamber, the larger amount of plasma created resulting in the large potential of producing energy. And with 10 times the plasma volume of the largest machine operating today, the ITER Tokamak will be capable of longer plasmas and better confinement.

This machine has been designed specifically to:

  • To produce 500 MW of fusion power
    The world record for fusion power is held by the European tokamak JET. In 1997, JET produced 16 MW of fusion power from a total input heating power of 24 MW (Q=0.67) where Q is the Total Heating Power. Now, ITER is designed to produce a ten-fold return on energy (Q=10) or 500 MW of fusion power from 50 MW of input heating power.
  • To demonstrate the integrated operation of technologies for a fusion power plant
    ITER will bridge the gap between today’s smaller-scale experimental fusion devices and the demonstration of fusion power plants of the future. This will make the scientists able to study plasmas under conditions similar to those expected to be seen in a future power plant and test technologies such as heating, control, diagnostics, cryogenics, and remote maintenance.
  • To achieve a deuterium-tritium plasma where the reaction is sustained through internal heating
    Scientists are confident that the plasmas in ITER will not only produce much more fusion energy but will remain stable for longer periods of time.
  • To test tritium breeding
    One of the missions for the later stages of ITER operation is to demonstrate the feasibility of producing tritium within the vacuum vessel. The world supply of tritium (used with deuterium to fuel the fusion reaction) is not sufficient to cover the needs of future power plants.
  • To demonstrate the safety characteristics of a fusion device
    One of the primary goals of ITER operation is to demonstrate the control of the plasma and the fusion reactions with negligible consequences to the environment. Although, ITER achieved an important landmark in fusion history when, in 2012, the ITER Organization was licensed as a nuclear operator in France based on the rigorous and impartial examination of its safety files based on French Law.

What is Nuclear Fusion?

Fusion is the energy source of the Sun and stars. In the tremendous heat and gravity at the core, hydrogen nuclei collide and fuse into heavier helium atoms and release tremendous amounts of energy in the process.
Today , we use the most capable and efficient mode of nuclear fusion the reaction between two hydrogen isotopes, deuterium (D) and tritium (T). The DT fusion reaction produces the highest energy gain(Q) at the “lowest” temperatures.
Now for ITER, three conditions must be fulfilled to achieve fusion in a laboratory:
  • Very high temperature (on the order of 150,000,000° Celsius)
  • Sufficient plasma particle density (to increase the likelihood that collisions do occur)
  •  Sufficient confinement time (to hold the plasma, which has a tendency to expand, within a defined volume).
At extreme temperatures, electrons are separated from nuclei and gas becomes a plasma(often referred to as the fourth state of matter). Fusion plasmas provide the environment in which light elements can fuse and yield energy. And in a Tokamak device, powerful magnetic fields are used to confine and control the plasma.

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