Scientists are becoming closer to putting the world's first nuclear fusion reactor, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), to the test this June.

Japanese Atomic Energy Agency To Open New Facility J-PARC
(Photo: Junko Kimura/Getty Images)
NAKA, IBARAKI - JULY 23: A large tokamak device "JT-60" is located at Japan Atomic Energy Agency's (JAEA) Naka Fusion Research Institute on July 23, 2008, in Naka, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan. The fusion plasma research facility, JT-60, which achieved the world's highest iron temperature of 520 million degrees centigrade in 1996 is now in operation. It will be used as a facility of International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) that will start operation around 2017 in France. JT-60 will undergo a large-scale renovation from September 2008 for seven years.

The same technology that powers weapons of mass destruction could even control cities worldwide, experts said. However, ITER will be the first fusion reactor capable of delivering more electricity than it takes to run if everything goes according to plan.

Will ITER Make a Difference?

Low-power activities at the ITER site won't begin until 2025, according to The Next Web. The initial test runs, on the other hand, will begin in June.

This summer, EUROfusion researchers will start the Joint European Torus (JET), a separate experiment aimed at fine-tuning the ITER experiment's fuel and material requirements ahead of its imminent launch.

The size disparity between JET and ITER is the most important. In reality, although the JET experiment came first, the development of the ITER concept became an integral part of it. JET was turned off for several months when scientists redesigned it to interact with the ITER mission.

According to Futurism, the principle is simple. Experts would combine plasma from both isotopes combines to unleash heat.

Nature explained that the heat could produce helium, which raises the temperature inside the reactor to 100 million degrees, several times that of the Sun's heart. The extra heat would sustain further fusion reactions,

JET serves as a proof-of-concept for ITER in this way. If all goes according to plan, it will help researchers resolve critical issues such as fuel use and reaction optimization.

Isn't It True That Fusion Is Complex?

There's more to solving nuclear fusion than simply finding the right fuel combination - but that's the most of it. The requirements for controlled nuclear fusion are much more difficult to obtain than, say, having an exploding warhead with it. However, this is more of a scientific and infrastructure issue than a safety issue.

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Nuclear fusion plants are absolutely stable in theory. For fusion, the kinds of harmful radiation or reactor meltdown conditions that may arise with fission are almost unavoidable.

The main issue is that it must be performed perfectly in order to provide enough electricity to be useful. Of necessity, it must be kept under regulation so that it does not output too much. When you think about fusion on a one-to-one nuclei ratio, it's easy to achieve. However, even today's supercomputers have difficulty simulating fusion at broad enough scales to be effective.

The idea that bombarding neutrons produced by combining tritium and deuterium would make the inner facility very radioactive adds to the complexity. Humans won't be able to go inside for at least 18 months because it's so radioactive. That means it must work correctly the first time.

For the time being, fusion technology remains a very mysterious source of energy. While there is far more weight behind attempts to make it a possibility than there was only ten years ago, functional fusion power has yet to materialize on a small startup and multinational scale respectively.

However, if realized, it might constitute an entirely new source of nearly unlimited electricity, free of nuclear war dangers.

What Will Happen Next?

When JET starts up this summer, we'll be able to work on some of these issues firsthand. ITER will then launch a ten-year duty period in 2025, during which it will run on low-power hydrogen reactions.

At that time, scientists will keep an eye on the device while also looking at a multi-disciplinary approach to addressing the numerous engineering concerns. Developing machine learning systems and artificial intelligence models are needed to scale fusion systems at the heart of these efforts, said.

In 2035, when the ITER team has gathered enough data and intelligence, they will replace the reactor's hydrogen fuel with deuterium and tritium, two far more powerful atoms.

If all goes according to schedule, we might be trading the world's energy crunch for fusion-powered surplus within a few decades.

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