World’s largest nuclear fusion project ITER starts machine assembly


The machine assembly of the “tokamak” nuclear fusion reactor ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), or the world’s largest nuclear fusion project,  started here on July 28, with the launch ceremony marking the start of ITER’s five-year assembly phase, being held online. 

The ITER machine is being assembled to replicate the fusion power of the sun, to enable generation of clean unlimited energy, and the first ultra-hot plasma is expected to be generated in late 2025. The world’s largest science project is intended to demonstrate that fusion power can be generated on a commercial scale.

French president, Emmanuel Macron, launched the assembly phase, alongwith leaders from ITER project member countries – China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, UK, US and the European Union. “There are moments when the nations of the world choose to overcome their differences to meet a particular moment in history. The decision to launch ITER in the mid-2000s, was one of these moments. ITER is a promise of peace,” Macron said in his virtual address. 

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said: “I believe disruptive innovation will play a key role in addressing global issues including climate change and realising a sustainable carbon-free society.” A statement by Chinese President Xi Jinping, read out by Minister Wang Zhigang, said: “The ITER project — one of the most important international scientific collaborations — embodies the human desire for the peaceful use of fusion energy.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin in his address, read out by the state atomic energy corporation Rosatom’s Director General Alexey Likhachev, said:  “ITER, which is the largest international scientific and technical project in history, is a vivid example of efficient and mutually beneficial multilateral cooperation. Russia is one of the founding countries of this initiative that aims at making a significant contribution to ensuring energy security of mankind and plays an active role in its implementation. The ITER Project is based on the concept of the Tokamak (derived from the Russian words for “toroidal magnetic confinement”) facility invented and developed in our country

ITER will be the first project to achieve a self-heating plasma and is expected to generate 10 times more heat than is put in. Fusion provides clean, reliable energy without carbon emissions, with minute amounts of fuel and no physical possibility of an accident with meltdown.The fuel for fusion is found in seawater and lithium, while it is abundant enough to supply the world for millions of years. A football-sized amount of this fuel is equivalent to around 10,000 tons of coal.

The plant at ITER will produce about 500 MW of thermal power. If operated continuously and connected to the electric grid, that would translate to around 200 MW of electric power, which is sufficient for the average needs of 200,000 homes. A commercial fusion plant will be designed with a slightly larger plasma chamber, for 10-15 times more electrical power. For instance, a 2,000 MW fusion power plant could supply electricity to two million homes.

“Enabling the exclusive use of clean energy will be a miracle for our planet. Constructing the machine piece by piece will be like assembling a three-dimensional puzzle on an intricate timeline and with the precision of a Swiss watch”, said ITER Director General Bernard Bigot.

Millions of components from all over the world will be used to assemble the giant reactor, which will weigh 23,000 tonnes components. It is a concrete demonstration of the willingness of ITER’s 35 partner countries to join together in an enduring way in their common fight against climate change. Among the components is the 30-metre-diameter cryostat manufactured by India, which surrounds the reactor and keeps it at the extremely low temperature required. The vacuum vessel upper ports and the power supply busbars were supplied by Russia.