ITER’s mission to power the future of humanity: energy and environment


04 May 2021

From a childhood fascination with “what small means” to simulating the power of the sun to bring affordable energy to all of humanity. This is the journey described by Sergio Orlandi, head of the central engineering and plant directorate at the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER).

Orlandi was talking to the Why mankind needs nuclear power webinar, which took place last week for the launch of Rosatom’s Atoms for humanity initiative. The discussion focused on the social, environmental and global partnership aspects of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It was moderated by Kirsty Gogan, Managing Partner of Lucid Catalyst and Co-Founder of Terra Praxis.

ITER is a major international project to build a tokamak fusion device designed to prove the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale, carbon-free energy source. The European Union contributes almost half of the cost of its construction, while the other six members (China, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States) contribute equally to the rest.

The goal of ITER, which is located in Cadarache, France, is to operate at 500 MW (for at least 400 seconds continuously) with 50 MW of plasma heating power. It seems that an additional 300 MWe of electricity could be necessary for the operation. No electricity will be produced at ITER. The first plasma is scheduled for 2025, with deuterium-tritium fusion experiments starting in 2035.

Human effort

Atoms for humanity highlighted the ITER project for its discussion on global partnerships. Gosgen described it not only as an ambitious engineering project, but as “a collective human enterprise involving the participation of two-thirds of the countries of the world”.

Orlandi said the project is an integrated international project involving seven stakeholders, which requires unifying efforts to create a comprehensive integrated design. A central workforce of 1,000 people at Cadarache manages this onboarding process for the different designs coming from different parts of the world, he said. This follows both international regulations and French rules and standards, which must be “implemented and customized in one delivery,” he added.

“It’s something very delicate, very stimulating, but I really believe that it gives us the ability to move this train because the motivation is very high. We know very well that we are on the frontier of new technology, of scientific development, but we also know that we are making something that is historic and good for mankind. Our aim is to be able to produce energy at low cost for all the human population while meeting and fulfilling all the requirements. environmental, ”he said.

Gogan said that beyond the unprecedented level of cooperation involved in the project, its scale itself was remarkable.

“ITER will be able to produce 100 megawatts of thermal power, ensuring an amplification ratio [of the fusion reaction] of Q ≥ 10 based on the consumption of 50 megawatts “, said Orlandi.” So we want to demonstrate with this ITER fusion nuclear power plant that we are capable of producing more energy than we absorb and that ” how much “must be equal to 10.”

The ITER experiments will take place inside the vacuum chamber, a hermetically sealed steel container that houses the fusion reactions and serves as the first safety containment barrier. In its donut-shaped chamber, or torus, the plasma particles spiral continuously without touching the walls. In a tokamak device, such as ITER, the larger the volume of the vacuum chamber, the easier it is to confine the plasma and achieve the type of high energy regime that will produce significant fusion power.

To achieve “the star reaction”, a temperature of 150 million degrees centigrade must be reached inside the toroidal plasma chamber, Orlandi said.

“No temperature like this can be withstood by any material. It is for this reason that we are truly at the frontier of scientific knowledge and technology,” he said. The integration by ITER of new technologies in superconductivity, cryogenics, vacuum cleaners, transport of electrical and mechanical energy is an achievement which “until a few years ago was really an impossible mission and difficult to imagine”, he said. he adds.

Beyond engineering

Asked about ITER’s mission beyond the technical aspects of the project, Orlandi underlined the importance of fuel.

Although different isotopes of light elements can be paired to achieve fusion, the deuterium-tritium reaction has been identified as the most efficient for fusion devices. ITER and future devices will use these two isotopes of hydrogen to fuel the fusion reaction. Deuterium can be distilled from all forms of water. In every cubic meter of seawater, for example, there are 33 grams of deuterium.

“This is what makes this plant, once we have tested its production, something that is valid for all mankind at a really low cost because we will no longer have the very big impact on the cost of fuel. Said Orlandi.

In a film to accompany the interview, Orlandi said his fascination with the Core began in childhood. At ITER, which he joined in 2013 at the age of 57, he leads “the dream of simulating the sun on Earth”.

“Today I’m 64, but I feel so young,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are, it’s how young you are to get closer to the target you have in front of you.”

With 25 nations working together “as one team”, he said, ITER “represents the future of all countries”.

“It is a way of producing low-cost energy from a nuclear source that is infinite,” he said, meaning that everyone, everywhere, will be able to have a standard of living and an equally high level of well-being.

“When I met my wife in 1977, we talked a lot about helping others because giving without expecting anything in return is the best way to achieve something awesome for yourself,” he said. he declares. “All countries in the world need energy and this is very important for all of us.”

A recording of Why mankind needs nuclear power is here.

Research and writing by World Nuclear News

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