In South of France, scientists are trying to make a first-of-its-kind nuclear reactor, a special steel cauldron where top scientists from countries including India, trying to imitate a process similar to the Sun and hopes to generate clean nuclear energy by fusing atoms.
This is till date World’s largest scientific project ever to be undertaken. As of 2016, the total price of constructing the experiment is expected to be in excess of €20 billion (₹1. 44 lakh crore). The EU, as host party for the ITER complex, is contributing about 45% of the cost, with the other six parties contributing approximately 9 percent each. ITER will be built mostly through in-kind contributions from the participant countries (Parties) in the form of components manufactured by the Parties and delivered/installed at ITER. The reactor will weigh about 23,000 tonnes – as much as three Eiffel Tower and some 80,000 Kilometer of special super conducting wires will be used.
The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) brings together India, China, South Korea, USA, Japan, Russia and the European Union as Scientist see if they can harness the power of Sun by literally confining it in a steel bottle. Dr. Osamu Motojima, Director General Emeritus of ITER, points out that together these parties ” represent half of the world’s population and account for two-third of the global economic might”.
Years of Research
Following the first fusion experiments in the 1930s, fusion physics laboratories were established in nearly every industrialized nation. By the mid-1950s “fusion machines” were operating in the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Germany and Japan.
A major breakthrough occurred in 1968 in the Soviet Union. Researchers there were able to achieve temperature levels and plasma confinement times—two of the main criteria for achieving fusion—that had never been attained before. The Soviet machine was a doughnut-shaped magnetic confinement device called a tokamak.
From this time on, tokamak was to become the dominant concept in fusion research, and tokamak devices multiplied across the globe. (India’s -ADITYA)
Science behind it
Harnessing fusion immense energy has been science’s long elusive obsession.
Nuclear plants today generates power by splitting the atoms and in doing so they produce large quantities of radioactive waste that can be dangerous for hundreds of years and has to be handled with extreme care. In contrast, “Nuclear Fusion” you get energy when two atoms join together to form one. In a fusion reactor, hydrogen atoms come together to form helium atoms, neutrons and vast amounts of energy. It’s the same type of reaction that powers hydrogen bombs and the sun. This would be a cleaner, safer, more efficient and more abundant source of power than nuclear fission.
That is why fusion energy is sometimes referred to as ‘evergreen atomic energy’. According to Dr. Ravi Grover, Head of Indian delegation at ITER ‘fusion is inherently safe, there is no danger of an uncontrolled chain reaction and fear of nuclear explosion in negligible ,producing almost no long lived radioactive waste”.
To achieve fusion, you need to create special conditions to overcome this tendency. There are two ways to achieve the temperatures and pressures necessary for hydrogen fusion to take place:
- Magnetic confinement uses magnetic and electric fields to heat and squeeze the hydrogen plasma. The ITER project in France is using this method.
- Inertial confinement uses laser beams or ion beams to squeeze and heat the hydrogen plasma. Scientists are studying this experimental approach at the National Ignition Facility of Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in the United States.
The power output of the kind of fusion reactor that is envisaged for the second half of this century will be similar to that of a fission reactor, (i.e., between 1 and 1.7 gigawatts). The average cost per kilowatt of electricity is also expected to be similar. Slightly more expensive at the beginning, when the technology is new, and less expensive as economies of scale bring the costs down.
Advantage of Fusion
The main application for fusion is in making electricity. Nuclear fusion can provide a safe, clean energy source for future generations with several advantages over current fission reactors:
- Abundant energy: Fusing atoms together in a controlled way releases nearly four million times more energy than a chemical reaction such as the burning of coal, oil or gas and four times as much as nuclear fission reactions (at equal mass).
- Sustainability: Fusion fuels are widely available and nearly inexhaustible. Deuterium can be distilled from all forms of water, while tritium will be produced during the fusion reaction as fusion neutrons interact with lithium.
- No CO₂: Fusion doesn’t emit harmful toxins like carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Its major byproduct is helium: an inert, non-toxic gas.
- No long-lived radioactive waste: Nuclear fusion reactors produce no high activity, long-lived nuclear waste. The activation of components in a fusion reactor is low enough for the materials to be recycled or reused within 100 years.
- Limited risk of proliferation: Fusion doesn’t employ fissile materials like uranium and plutonium. (Radioactive tritium is neither a fissile nor a fissionable material.) There are no enriched materials in a fusion reactor like ITER that could be exploited to make nuclear weapons..
- No risk of meltdown: A Fukushima-type nuclear accident is not possible in a tokamak fusion device. It is difficult enough to reach and maintain the precise conditions necessary for fusion—if any disturbance occurs, the plasma cools within seconds and the reaction stops. The quantity of fuel present in the vessel at any one time is enough for a few seconds only and there is no risk of a chain reaction.
NASA is currently looking into developing small-scale fusion reactors for powering deep-space rockets. Fusion propulsion would boast an unlimited fuel supply (hydrogen), would be more efficient and would ultimately lead to faster rockets.
If the experiment goes successful India would get low cost technology to harness energy by nuclear fusion. India can profoundly reduce its oil import bill and that amount can be utilized for other development activities. Our future generation could live in a fresh environment and can completely rely on non fossil fuel sources of energy for their energy needs.
ADITYA: India has its own sun.
ADITYA (synonym of Sun in Hindi) is the first indigenously designed and fabricated tokamak in India. Located at the Institute for Plasma Research in Gujarat and operated since 1989. India’s medium-size tokamak conducts experiments with high plasma current at high temperature. The installation also serves to train students in tokamak operation and research.
In 2005, Decision to set the project in France and As on 2016, the facility is in assembly phase I, Scientist are expected to initiate the operation in 2035.