The first part of the world’s first experimental fusion power plant, the gigantic central magnet of ITER, has arrived at the Cadarache center in France. ITER is currently one of the largest international magnetic-fusion research and development projects in the world, and involves experts from the ELKH Centre for Energy Research (EK-CER) Fusion Plasma Physics Laboratory and the Fusion Technology Laboratory, as well as several companies from Hungary.
The aim of the international project involving 35 countries – including Hungary – is to achieve controlled energy production through hydrogen fusion. The 66-ton magnetic part of the Central Solenoid, created by General Atomics in California, arrived by sea from the United States and was then transported to the site by road from the port of Marseille.
The other five parts of the magnet – the assembly of which is an important step for ITER – will be assembled by 2024 at the latest, according to Bernard Bigot, Director of the ITER Organization. When complete, the Central Solenoid will weigh nearly a thousand tons and will be 18 feet high.
“This will be the world’s most powerful magnet, as it will have 13 tesla magnetic fields inside, making it 300,000 times larger than the Earth’s magnetic field,” explained Thierry Schild, Solenoid’s technology manager.
The Hungarian engineers have planned the cabling of the entire interior of ITER in such a way that it can operate without maintenance for 20 years, and they also tested some components in Budapest. EK-CER experts are currently working on the various components of ITER, as well as testing its critical technologies. In the ITER facility, hydrogen gas will be heated to a temperature higher than the temperature in the middle of the Sun, some 150 million degrees Celsius, ‘burning’ it into helium and producing ten times more energy than is used to heat the material.
According to estimates, the experiments will generate the first plasma (ionized hydrogen gas) by December 2025, and full operation is expected by 2035. As a working commercial energy source, fusion energy will not generate electricity before 2050. Proponents of nuclear fusion say it is the energy of the future because it can produce virtually unlimited quantities and does not pollute the environment.
The original budget for the project has already tripled, and currently stands at approximately EUR 20 billion.