Energy, in France the first clean and slag-free nuclear power station that will help save the climate. With 1.2 billion of Italian technology

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There are 1.2 billion euros of Italian technology in the nuclear power plant of the future. A plant to generate energy based on fusion thermonuclear. That is the natural reaction that fuels the Sun and all the stars: a clean process that does not generate waste. It is a technological frontier on which many countries – including Italy with Aeneas and its partners – they have been concentrating their research for years and that took shape in 2007 in an international project from 20 billion baptized dollars iter (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor). Last week, the building intended to house the experimental reactor was inaugurated in France. And in 2025 the participants – China, Japan, India, South Korea, Russia, USA, EU and Switzerland – will activate a Cadarache the first thermonuclear fusion plant in the world, with dimensions comparable to those of a power plant conventional. Side by side with renewables, thermonuclear fusion could significantly contribute to the fight against climate change. Even if we have to wait until 2035, when later 10 years of testing the project will close and the commercial plants will start.

Nuclear fusion is considered highly efficient and clean because its starting source is the water and does not generate waste. But it represents a real scientific and engineering challenge, involving fields such as the superconductivity, the cryogenics and the empty void. Italy is making a fundamental contribution: we have exceeded the 1.2 billion euro threshold contracts acquired for the realization of the project, emphasizes the magazine Enea Energy, Environment and Innovation. Considering only the high-tech components, the Italian companies – from Angelantoni Test Technologies to Ansaldo Nucleare and Walter Tosto – have provided materials for 60% of the value of the calls of Fusion for Energy (F4E), the European Union agency that manages the EU contribution to the construction of Iter, underlines Aldo Pizzuto, in charge of the Enea department for nuclear fusion and technologies and coordinator of the DTT Project. The department and the research centers of Frascati and Brasimone make Enea the Italian reference point in the project.

Iter is in practice a deuterium-tritium reactor (two isotopes of hydrogen) where the nuclear reaction takes place thanks to a plasma (ionized gas which acts as fuel) confined to a machine called Tokamak where a very powerful magnetic field is created. The main purpose of Iter is to demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion as an energy source, achieving a stable fusion reaction. The first reaction (ignition of the first plasma) is expected in 2025 and the duration of Iter will be ten years. Enea scientists were among the first to build plants for the study of magnetic confinement plasmas and fusion machines such as Frascati Tokamak and Frascati Tokamak Upgrade. As part of the Iter project, Enea's research center in Frascati was chosen to host the DTT or Divertor Tokamak Test facility financed with approximately 500 million euros of private and public funds, including € 250 million from the EIB. It is a 10 meter high hyper-technological cylinder with a radius of 5 meters based on made in Italy technologies and conceived by Enea in collaboration with Cnr, National Institute of Nuclear Physics, Rfx Consortium, Research Consortium for Energy, Automation and Electromagnetic Technologies and various universities. DTT will have to test the operation of Iter: there will be confined plasma brought to 100 million degrees Celsius with a current intensity of 6 million amperes and a magnetic field of 60 thousand Gauss surrounded by a network of over 40 km of superconducting cables which will be at -269 degrees.

Nuclear fusion is the natural reaction that feeds the sun and all the stars, but it is not trivial to obtain on planet Earth. It is necessary to bring the ions to gigantic temperatures and to make them prevail forces of attraction nuclear than those of repulsion electricity. This is why gigantic magnetic fields are used or, as Pizzuto explains, the technique of "magnetic confinement": a container with superconducting magnets plus very high temperatures that allow for breaking the electric barrier, beyond which the particles attract and unite producing energy. DTT (also exploiting Enea patents) will test this technique while seeking a solution to the fundamental questions that remain open: channeling energy efficiently produced (today huge spaces are needed), maintaining the stability of the system, lower costs whole generation process to make it competitive with other sources and get the same huge efficiency in small-sized power plants. For this reason, Italy continues to work on the best performing superconductors that create greater magnetic fields in smaller volumes.

But on the practical viability of the system, Iter's partners are "very confident", says Pizzuto: thermonuclear fusion electricity will be made. The promises are exciting: the reaction is clean because does not burn fossil fuels and it is safe, not only because it has no waste but because in the Tokamak, if the parameters go out of range, the process turns off. Side by side with renewables, thermonuclear fusion could significantly contribute to the fight against climate change. After 2035.


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