The Council of the European Union agreed to a contribution of 5.61 billion euros for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project under its seven-years long-term budget. ITER is one of the most ambitious energy projects in the world today that aims to build and operate a reactor to test the feasibility of fusion as an energy source.
In Southern France, 35 nations are collaborating to build the world’s largest tokamak, a magnetic fusion device that has been designed to prove the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale and carbon-free source of energy based on the same principle that powers our Sun and stars.
The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor Agreement was signed in November 2006 by Euratom, the United States, the Russian Federation, Japan, China, South Korea and India. Euratom, which is according to the agreement is the Host Party, has taken the lead in this project.
According to Commission estimates, the important achievement of the first plasma – that is the first time the machine is powered on, and the first act of ITER’s multi-decade operational program – will probably take place in December 2025, with the full operation estimated in 2035 (by the end of December last year, the completion of the first plasma had reached 72.1 per cent according to ITER’s website).
Fusion energy as a viable commercial energy source is not expected to produce electricity before 2050.
Power plants today rely either on fossil fuels, nuclear fission, or renewable sources. In all cases, the plants generate electricity by converting mechanical power, such as the rotation of a turbine, into electrical power. The tokamak is an experimental machine designed to harness the energy of fusion.
Inside a tokamak, the energy produced through the fusion of atoms is absorbed as heat in the walls of the vessel. Just like a conventional power plant, a fusion power plant will use this heat to produce steam and then electricity by way of turbines and generators. 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 world record for fusion power is held by the European tokamak JET, which in 1997 produced 16 megawatts (MW) of fusion power from a total input heating power of 24 MW. ITER is designed to produce a ten-fold return on energy or 500 MW of fusion power from 50 MW of input heating power.
The multi-billion euros endeavour, that aims to produce sustainable fusion energy on a commercial scale, is financed by seven of the world’s largest energy powerhouses: the European Union, United Kingdom China, India, Russia, Japan, South Korea and the United States. Europe is responsible for the largest portion of construction costs (45.6 per cent), the remainder is shared equally by China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the US (9.1 per cent each).