Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter)

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter) is the world’s largest nuclear fusion project.  Thermonuclear Fusion is the most far reaching, NON-Black budget,science experiment ever attempted by a consortium of the Worlds leading Governments, America, Japan, India, China, Russia, and the European Union. 

In a nutshell, Thermonuclear  Fusion, is the process by which it MAY be possible to produce limitless clean energy. The fusion process echoes that taking place in the energy-producing core of the sun. Isotopes of hydrogen called deuterium and tritium are heated until their nuclei fuse together, producing helium.

As Einstein pointed out: energy = mass x the speed of light squared, or (e = mc2). As the speed of light squared is a vast number, even the minuscule loss of mass during fusion produces a massive amount of energy.

Only a small amount of fuel is required.  Deuterium can be obtained from seawater, Tritium is something that will be produced in the reactor itself.  While Thermonuclear Fusion does produce radioactive waste, this has a half-life of only 100 to 200 years, and that material can be reused elsewhere in industry.

The end point of a 15 Billion dollar investment is commercially viable nuclear fusion. Thermonuclear Fusion is deriving energy from crushing together the nuclei in atoms rather than splitting them, as is done currently in nuclear fission reactors. The idea, on paper, is simple, relying on Einstein’s Famous equation: e = mc2.

There is just one hitch. It is not that the realisation of this dream will require an extraordinary and co-ordinated feat of technological innovation  One problem, as always, is money and funding.  The truth is that even if it is built to spec the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter) will not start producing commercially viable  energy until the late 2020s

 While the science of fusion is well understood, making it happen and sustaining the reaction is vastly complex.  The hydrogen isotopes need to be heated to 150 million degrees centigrade, 10 times as hot as the core of the sun, at which point the atoms begin to disintegrate, creating plasma, an electrically charged gas.

This plasma needs to be contained while fusion occurs, but containment can only be achieved within a vast magnetic field, 50,000 times stronger than that of the Earth, generated by a piece of equipment known as a tokamak. At Iter, the tokamak is due to be built around a doughnut-shaped container containing about 1,000 cubic metres of plasma.

When it is switched on for the first time, it will produce 500 MW of thermal energy, from which it will generate nearly 200 MW of electricity, enough to power a small city. At it's completion the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter) will eventually stand 187ft tall and weigh 23,000 tons.

If successful it will be worth it's weight in GOLD.  23,00 tons of pure GOLD at today's per ounce price.  As our friends in New York would say..."Forget about It!"

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