Climate polluters collaborate to develop powerful nuclear fusion

2021-11-11 08:56:27 By : Ms. Mei-Jeng Cheng

Paris, France, November 1, 2021 (ENS)-In the 10th century French Provencal town of Saint-Paul-lès-Durance, the largest scientific research collaboration in history is being carried out in the most expensive building ever. The large-scale international nuclear fusion project has brought together all the countries with the top greenhouse gas emissions with unprecedented global cooperation.

The Cadarache Nuclear Energy Research Center is the largest nuclear energy research center in Europe, located in Saint-Paul-lès-Durance. Just next door, 35 countries are building the world's largest experimental fusion facility, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), aimed at demonstrating the scientific and technical feasibility of fusion power. The target date to start operations is 2035.

Like the Paris climate agreement, ITER is also the first global cooperation project.

The 35 countries participating in ITER are 27 EU countries (via Euratom) Switzerland, as well as the United Kingdom, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States.

ITER also signed a non-member technical cooperation agreement with Australia through the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization; Kazakhstan, through the National Nuclear Center of Kazakhstan and Canada.

The United Kingdom participates in ITER after Brexit through its membership in ITER's domestic European organization Fusion for Energy.

In general, ITER member countries represent three continents, more than 40 languages, half of the world's population and 85% of the world's gross domestic product. Thousands of people are working hard for the success of ITER in the offices and domestic institutions, laboratories and industries organized by ITER.

The risks and benefits of nuclear fusion

Unlike nuclear fission, which splits atoms to power all current nuclear power plants, fusion is the process of powering the sun and stars.

Fusion occurs when two light atoms combine or fuse to form a heavier atom. When light nuclei fuse, a lot of energy is released.

But the temperature required for this process far exceeds the temperature that any solid material can withstand. In order to capture the energy source of the sun on Earth, we need a way to capture and contain objects with temperatures as high as 100,000,000 degrees or higher by hanging them to prevent them from coming into contact with any solid bodies,” explains David Chandler, Massachusetts. Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"This is done with a strong magnetic field, which forms an invisible bottle that holds a hot vortex soup of protons and electrons, called plasma," Chandler wrote. "Because these particles are electrically charged, they are strongly controlled by a magnetic field. The most widely used configuration to contain them is a doughnut-shaped device called a tokamak."

Most of these devices use traditional copper electromagnets to generate magnetic fields, but ITER uses low-temperature superconductors.

As the last experimental step to prove the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale carbon-free energy source, ITER will become the world's largest tokamak, with a plasma volume 10 times that of the largest tokamak in operation today.

A tokamak is a fusion device that contains plasma in a torus chamber by using two magnetic fields-one is generated by an electric coil surrounding the torus, and the other is generated by a strong current in the plasma itself. More than 200 tokamaks around the world have paved the way for ITER cooperation.

"It is because of hydrogen fusion that we have today. If there is no fusion in the sun, we will have no light or warmth, and there will be no light on the earth," ITER Director-General Bernard Bigot said in July 2020. Said at the official launching ceremony of the ITER Tokamak Conference on 29th.

The ITER tokamak will be the largest ever, with a plasma volume of 840 cubic meters and a weight of 23,000 tons. The current maximum plasma volume of tokamak is 100 cubic meters. In operation, ITER is expected to produce 500 megawatts of fusion power.

Bigot explained that ITER’s fusion reaction will not only produce more energy safer than nuclear fission reactors, but also produce much less hazardous radioactive waste than fission. Among them, spent fuel rods that take millions of years to decay. Weapon-grade materials in China require careful and expensive storage.

Fusion requires much less fuel than fission, and fuel is easier to obtain. Fission requires uranium that must be mined and enriched; fusion requires deuterium, which is easily extracted from seawater, and tritium, which can be made from lithium in a reactor.

ITER scientists estimate that “the lithium reserves on land can allow fusion power plants to operate for more than 1,000 years, while the sea-based lithium reserves can meet the needs for millions of years.”

Fusion reactors will not melt or discharge long-lived radioactive waste

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the kind of uncontrolled nuclear meltdown that occurred at Chernobyl or Fukushima nuclear power plants is impossible in ITER or any other nuclear fusion facility.

"ITER is absolutely impossible for a Fukushima-style accident," the official document states. "The [fusion] reaction relies on continuous fuel input; if there is any disturbance in the process, the reaction will stop immediately."

The waste produced by nuclear fusion does not live as long as the fission waste.

"Fusion reactors produce helium, which is an inert gas. It also produces and consumes tritium in factories in a closed loop. Tritium is radioactive (beta emitter), but its half-life is very short. It is only used in small amounts, so Unlike long-lived radionuclides, it does not pose any serious danger," the International Atomic Energy Agency explained.

However, the IAEA did raise another possible safety challenge. He said: “The activation of the structural materials of the reactor by the strong neutron flux is another issue. This depends largely on what kind of blankets and other structures are used. The solution, its reduction is an important challenge for future fusion experiments."

The biggest disadvantage of nuclear fusion is obvious-it is very challenging to implement. Nuclear fission power plants have been online since the 1950s. Although dozens of experimental fusion projects are underway around the world, fusion still needs to be achieved on a large scale.

Informal ITER progress report

The ITER Council meets twice a year. At the most recent meeting held in June, the Council noted with appreciation the achievements of the project since the last meeting in November 2020, including the continued delivery of major components and progress in machine assembly, despite the coronavirus pandemic Caused difficulties.

This is an informal progress report as of June 2021, when the ITER committee provided the latest data:

• The first poloidal magnetic field coil #6 of the ITER superconducting magnet purchased jointly by Europe and China has been placed in the tokamak pit, the other poloidal magnetic field coil has been completed, and the others are steadily advancing.

• Seven toroidal magnetic field coils have now been delivered to the ITER site, and the eighth has been completed and is ready for shipment. A total of 18 toroidal magnetic field coils will generate a magnetic field around the torus of the ITER tokamak to confine plasma particles.

• The first module of the central solenoid valve is fully qualified and can be shipped now, and the second will be shipped later.

• The first partial sub-assembly of the vacuum vessel is manufactured in Korea, and the port stub provided by Russia has been assembled in the assembly hall, which includes the related toroidal magnetic field coils and heat shielding elements.

• All cryostat components have been delivered to the ITER site, and the welding work on the cryostat cover has started. A cryostat lower tank provided by India is installed.

• The manufacturing of other key components is being carried out in member industrial enterprises.

• Significant progress has been made in power plant reactive power compensation, magnetic energy conversion, low temperature and cooling water systems, and multiple systems have begun or are ready for commissioning.

• US ITER will provide hardware to support 12 different ITER systems, including the central solenoid in the magnet system, which is used to induce most of the magnetic flux changes required to initiate plasma, generate plasma current, and maintain it throughout the process The current burning time.

The preparation of the ITER project for the first plasma entry system is now approximately 75% complete.

Who will take the order?

The European Union and Switzerland shared nearly half of ITER's construction costs, and the other six members of this international joint venture: China, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States, are making equal contributions to the remaining funds.

Ninety percent of donations will be provided in the form of "in kind". Instead of cash, members will directly deliver components and buildings to the ITER organization.

If all manufacturing is done in Europe, the ITER organization estimates that the construction cost of the seven members is approximately 13 billion euros.

But each member country produces its contribution in its own country and delivers it to the ITER site in France. "Because production costs vary from member to member, it is impossible to provide a more accurate estimate," said the ITER organization.

In order to manage production costs and national contributions, ITER established its own currency as early as 2011. The ITER Unit of Account (IUA) is currency and is a unique feature of the ITER project based on the principle of procurement sharing. Instead of providing cash to the project, members provide “in-kind” donations.

IUA aims to consistently measure the value of in-kind contributions over time and offset market fluctuations.

ITER is not the only tokamak in the world

ITER is an unprecedented global collaboration and an ambitious effort to advance fusion science and technology to the point where demonstration fusion power plants can be designed and built, but many other fusion experiments are also being conducted around the world.

On September 5, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a large high-temperature superconducting electromagnet was raised to a field strength of 20 Tesla for the first time, which is the strongest magnetic field of its kind on Earth.

The MIT project leader and startup company Commonwealth Fusion Systems, CFS said that the successful demonstration of the project will help solve the biggest uncertainty in the construction of the world's first fusion power plant that generates more power than it consumes.

The combination of scientifically determined design principles and game-changing magnetic field strength makes it possible to realize economically viable and fast-growing factories.

"This is an important moment," said Bob Mumgaard, CEO of Commonwealth Fusion Systems. "Thanks to decades of research on these machines, we now have a scientifically advanced platform that is also very interesting commercially."

The main innovation of the MIT-CFS nuclear fusion design is the use of high-temperature superconductors, which can generate a stronger magnetic field in a smaller space. This design is achieved by a new type of superconducting material, which has been on the market a few years ago.

This idea was born from a classroom project in the nuclear engineering course taught by Dennis White, director of the MIT Center for Plasma Science and Fusion. This idea looked promising, so much so that it continued to develop in the next few iterations of this level, leading to the ARC power plant design concept in early 2015.

Until then, the only way to create the powerful magnetic fields needed to create magnetic "bottles" that can hold plasma heated to hundreds of millions of degrees is to make them bigger and bigger.

However, this new high-temperature superconductor material made in the form of a flat ribbon tape can achieve a higher magnetic field in a smaller device, which is equivalent to the performance achieved in a device that is 40 times larger in size. The volume uses traditional low-temperature superconducting magnets.

The leap in power and size is a key element of ARC's revolutionary design.

The use of new high-temperature superconducting magnets can apply decades of experimental knowledge gained from tokamak experiments, including MIT's own Alcator series, which is now in a safe shutdown state.

With the successful demonstration of magnet technology, the MIT-CFS cooperation is expected to build the world's first fusion device that can generate and limit the generation of plasma that consumes more energy than it consumes. The demonstration device is called SPARC and is scheduled to be completed in 2025.

"The challenges of achieving fusion are both technical and scientific," White said. But once the technology is confirmed, he said, "It is an inexhaustible carbon-free energy that you can deploy anytime and anywhere. It is really a brand new energy."

Almost every country participating in the ITER project and several other countries have their own nuclear fusion projects, sometimes even more than one.

In addition to the MIT SPARC project, there are four Tokomacs in the United States, four in Russia, three in China, two in the Czech Republic, two in Germany, the United Kingdom and India, one in Switzerland, as well as Brazil, Canada, Portugal, and South Korea, and Japan.

For a list of all Tokomak worldwide, please visit the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics. IPP is part of the European Fusion Program within the framework of the European Fusion Energy Development Alliance EUROfusion. The consortium is coordinated by the IPP in Garching, Germany, and includes 30 integration centers from 26 countries in the European Union and Switzerland and Ukraine.

Take it on the road

EUROfusion is holding the fusion energy touring exhibition for the first time, aiming to be educational and participatory.

Fusion, Power to the People opened on October 8th in Marseille, France. It combines science, art and technology to expose various audiences to a complex topic.

The exhibition is held in the historic Les Docks Village of Marseille, focusing on the past, present and future, helping visitors understand the power of the sun and stars, and showcasing the potential to use this potential as a clean, abundant and safe new energy source. effort.

Visitors will have the opportunity to download mobile apps for a truly interactive experience. Through the mobile application, visitors will encounter a group of characters, be introduced to a scientific and suspenseful story, and interact with the exhibition. By navigating different spaces and unlocking key information, visitors explore and experience the exhibition as a series of unique activities and discoveries.

The exhibition will be open for free in Marseille until December 19th. After Marseille, Fusion, Power to the People will travel across Europe.

"Fusion energy is not familiar to most people, but we believe this is an important topic people are exploring," said Mohamed Belhorma, the outreach officer of EUROfusion, who developed the tour program "Fusion, People's Power". "We hold the exhibition to give an interesting and fascinating introduction to fusion energy. We want to show the public that fusion has the potential to become an important part of solving the energy problem."

Featured image: Indian contractor MAN Energy Solutions (a subcontractor of Larsen & Toubro, a manufacturer of cryostat market segments) completed the welding of the lower cylinder and base of the ITER cryostat. The cryostat will completely surround the vacuum vessel and superconducting magnet of the ITER fusion machine, and insulate the magnetic system at ultra-low temperatures. The 3,800-ton cryostat will become the largest steel vacuum chamber in the world. March 2021. (Photo courtesy of ITER)

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