30th July 2020

Don’t drop that magnet…

OK you wouldn’t normally expect to find a piece about nuclear fusion on a fashion website but we love this stuff:

Nuclear fusion, not to be confused with conventional nuclear power, promises clean, unlimited power for the future, with no dangerous nuclear waste or by-products. Clean unlimited energy sounds like some kind of holy grail, but the technical challenges of controlling such extreme amounts of energy have yet to be overcome – despite sixty years of trying.

But now the Iter Project (and €20 billion) is seriously upping the game. The project, which has been described as the most complex engineering endeavour in history has just begun its five-year assembly phase in Southern France.

Nuclear fusion occurs when two atoms fired into a super-heated plasma combine to form a new atom and a neutron, releasing vast amounts of energy. But creating and controlling the extreme heat is where the extreme engineering comes in – and some of the numbers around the Iter Project are astonishing:

– The reactor will weigh over 23,000 tonnes

– 10,000 tonnes of superconducting magnets will be used to create the magnetic fields needed to shape and control the super-heated plasma

– The largest magnet is capable of lifting an aircraft carrier

– Over 200 kilometres of specially designed superconducting cable

– The world’s largest cryostat (or big fridge) cooling key elements to -269ºC

Bernard Bigot, Iter director general said: “Constructing the machine piece-by-piece will be like assembling a three-dimensional puzzle on an intricate timeline, with the precision of a Swiss watch.”

The project will consume large amounts of energy but the engineers are hoping to create ten times as much energy as they put in.

Seen as far more sustainable than conventional power generation, the fuels needed for fusion are widely available and nearly inexhaustible. No harmful greenhouse gases are created and the major by-product is helium, an inert, non toxic gas. There is also no risk of meltdown as the plasma will cool in seconds if the process is stopped.

The Iter Project, mind boggling though it is, is not designed to be a commercial reactor – it is designed as a proof-of-concept, to show what is possible. The first ultra-hot plasma is expected to be created in 2025 – if it works, commercial designs will follow.

The Iter Project is funded by the EU, UK, US, China, India, Japan, South Korea and Russia. You can find out more about it at iter.org

Good luck, guys.