In Provence the first step is taken that will lead in 2025 to light the Iter tokamak for nuclear fusion, the result of a vast international collaboration
Imitating the sun and the stars is not easy. Yet an international Iter project is trying to produce energy from nuclear fusion, a reaction that breaks out in the nuclei of the stars. And the news of November 7th is that the building that will host the reactor experimental has been completed. As reported by Ansa, the day will be announced by the general manager Bernard Bigot in Saint Paul lez Durance, in the south of the France, near the site where the complex is under construction.
The Iter project, an acronym for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, collects the collaboration of many European countries, including Italy, Russia, China, USA, Japan, India and South Korea. The experimental intent is to build a reactor capable of achieving the fusion of atoms. It is an alternative to nuclear fission, with which it should not be confused, used today in nuclear power plants that obtain energy from the decay of some atoms. In fact, nuclear fusion melts hydrogen atoms, or rather of its heavy isotopes (alternative atomic forms), the deuterium and the tritium. Not only: nuclear fusion does not produce radioactive waste that lasts millennia as in the case of fission (imagine having to dispose of the waste produced at the time of the pharaohs), but as reaction waste it produces atoms of helium.
In order to melt the hydrogen atoms, however, temperatures must be reached that meet only in the core of the stars and of our sun. There, at extraordinary gravity and temperature conditions, atoms merge and release immense amounts of energy.
However, scientists have developed systems over the years that, thanks to very powerful electric currents, are able to heat hydrogen isotopes to millions of degrees. At those temperatures, hydrogen loses electrons and forms a plasma of ions, releasing energy that can be harnessed for example to produce electricity. This can only be done inside special donut-shaped reactors, called tokamak.
However, Iter is not the only tokamak in the world. Indeed, a year ago, researchers at the Chinese Physics Institute had succeeded, thanks to the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (East), to bring the plasma to a record temperature of 100 million degrees Celsius for a few seconds.
But it is the first time that a project that benefits from the collaboration of 35 countries begins to take concrete steps. It took time: already in 2005 the different countries had signed the agreement that identified the site not far from Aix-en-Provence, in Provence. Today the building is finally ready. Next expected step: the 2025, when – they assure – the ready tokamak will be lit.