International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has written a message to the scientific community of many nations on the historic occasion of the beginning of the ITER Assembly activities.
What is ITER Project?
- ITER is international nuclear fusion research and engineering megaproject, which will be the world’s largest magnetic confinement plasma physics experiment. The goal of ITER is to demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion energy for peaceful use.
- It is an experimental tokamak nuclear fusion reactor that is being built next to the Cadarache facility in Saint-Paul-lès-Durance, in Provence, southern France.
- The project is funded and run by seven member entities—the European Union, India, Japan, China, Russia, South Korea and the United States.
- Construction of the ITER Tokamak complex started in 2013 and the building costs were over US$14 billion by June 2015.
- The EU, as host party for the ITER complex, is contributing about 45 per cent of the cost, with the other six parties contributing approximately 9 per cent each.
How does it work?
- Scientists have long sought to mimic the process of nuclear fusion that occurs inside the Sun, arguing that it could provide an almost limitless source of cheap, safe and clean electricity.
- Unlike in existing fission reactors, which split plutonium or uranium atoms, there is no risk of an uncontrolled chain reaction with fusion and it does not produce long-lived radioactive waste.
- The ITER aims to use a strong electric current to trap plasma inside a doughnut-shaped enclosure long enough for fusion to take place.
- Hydrogen plasma will be heated to 150 million degrees Celsius, ten times hotter than the core of the Sun, to enable the fusion reaction.
- The process happens in a doughnut-shaped reactor, called a tokamak 1, which is surrounded by giant magnets that confine and circulate the superheated, ionised plasma, away from the metal walls.
- The superconducting magnets must be cooled to -269°C (-398°F), as cold as interstellar space.
Contributions by India
- Apart from the financial contribution by Government of India, Indian scientists have made valuable contributions to the development and fabrication of the cryostat, the cooling system, the cryo-distribution system and several kilometres of cryolines.
What is ‘nuclear fusion’?
- Nuclear fusion is the process of making a single heavy nucleus (part of an atom) from two lighter nuclei.
- The nucleus made by fusion is heavier than either of the starting nuclei. It releases a large amount of energy.
- Fusion is what powers the Sun. Atoms of Tritium and Deuterium (isotopes of hydrogen, Hydrogen-3 and Hydrogen-2, respectively) unite under extreme pressure and temperature to produce a neutron and a helium isotope. Along with this, an enormous amount of energy is released, which is several times the amount produced by fission.
- Scientists continue to work on controlling nuclear fusion in an effort to make a fusion reactor to produce electricity.
- While nuclear fission is the division of one atom into two (by neutron bombardment), the fusion is the combination of two lighter atoms into a larger one (at a very high temperature).