Fusion Energy Era: ITER Assembly Begins – World’s Largest Science Project to Replicate the Fusion Power of the Sun

ITER Site Flags

Over the past two months, several massive first-of-a-kind components have been arriving at the ITER site. In the virtual presence of French President Emmanuel Macron, government leaders from the ITER Members will celebrate the start of assembly on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. Credit: ITER

Fusion: Future source of carbon-free, abundant, safe and economic energy; Leaders of EU, France, China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia & US make announcement together.

French President Emmanuel Macron and leaders from the European Union, China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the United States declare the start of a new energy era today with the official start of the assembly of the world’s largest fusion device at ITER in Southern France.

The ITER machine, the world’s largest science project, is being assembled to replicate the fusion power of the Sun that provides light and warmth and enables life on Earth.

The launch of ITER assembly phase is made possible by the arrival of components from all over the world in recent months. It demonstrates the willingness of the 35 partner countries of the ITER international research project to join together in an enduring way in their common fight against climate change.

“I heartily congratulate the ITER Project,” says Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan. “I believe disruptive innovation will play a key role in addressing global issues including climate change and realizing a sustainable carbon-free society.”

Fusion provides clean, reliable energy without carbon emissions. Fusion is safe, with minute amounts of fuel and no physical possibility of a run-away accident with meltdown.

The fuel for fusion is found in seawater and lithium. It is abundant enough to supply humanity for millions of years. A pineapple-sized amount of this fuel is the equivalent of 10,000 tons of coal.

The cost of building and operating a fusion plant is expected to be similar to the cost of a nuclear fission plant, but without the large costs and long-term legacy of waste disposal.

When ITER is finished, it is expected that it will demonstrate that fusion power can be generated sustainably on a commercial scale.

The Promise

It is because of the remarkable promise of fusion that the ITER project was born: The 35 partner countries are the EU (plus the United Kingdom and Switzerland), China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the United States.

These nations, representing more than 50 percent of the world population and more than 80 percent of the global gross domestic product, have pooled their vast expertise and resources to build the first industrial-scale research fusion device.

France is the host country. The European Union with the United Kingdom and Switzerland is the host member, funding 45 percent of the cost of ITER. Each of the other members, U.S. China, Japan, Russia, India, and Korea funds 9 percent.

About 90 percent of ITER Member contributions are made in-kind, adding international complexity to an already multifaceted machine, called a Tokamak (see video above) for “magnetic Torus.” When finished, the Tokamak will be made up of more than 1 million components.

Since the 1950s, when the concept of a Tokamak — magnetic confinement fusion — was first developed in the Soviet Union, fusion energy research has been an area of broad international collaboration.

In recent months, in preparation for the machine assembly, gigantic first-of-a-kind components have begun to arrive in France — in many cases weighing several hundred tons each and more than 15 meters long. The parts are the culmination of more than 5 years of fabrication in factories, universities and national laboratories all over the world.

The Tokamak components must meet very strict specifications. They must arrive in France on time, according to an intricate schedule.

“Constructing the machine piece by piece will be like assembling a 3-dimensional puzzle on an intricate timeline,” says Dr. Bigot.

“Every aspect of project management, systems engineering, risk management, and logistics of the machine assembly must perform together with the precision of a Swiss watch,” says Dr. Bigot. “We have a complicated script to follow over the next few years.”

At end of this period, in December 2025, ITER scientists and engineers will launch “First Plasma,” the initial event demonstrating machine functionality.

How much power will the ITER Tokamak provide?

The plant at ITER will produce about 500 megawatts of thermal power. If operated continuously and connected to the electric grid, that would translate to about 200 megawatts of electric power, enough for about 200,000 homes.

A commercial fusion plant will be designed with a slightly larger plasma chamber, for 10-15 times more electrical power. A 2,000 megawatt fusion power plant, for example, would supply electricity for 2 million homes.

Would fusion make a difference in the amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere?

Fusion power plants are carbon-free; they release no CO2. But the benefit of fusion for the fight against climate change depends on how quickly these fusion plants are installed.

More than 70 percent of carbon emissions come from energy use; and more than 80 percent of energy consumption comes from fossil fuels.

“If fusion power becomes universal in complement to renewable energies, the use of electricity could be expanded greatly, to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, buildings and industry,” predicts Dr. Bigot. “Enabling the exclusive use of clean energy will be a miracle for our planet.”

Fusion: how it works

  1. A few grams of deuterium and tritium (hydrogen) gas are injected into a huge, donut-shaped chamber, called a Tokamak.
  2. The hydrogen is heated until it becomes a cloud-like ionized plasma (see video above).
  3. The ionized plasma is shaped and controlled by 10,000 tons of superconducting magnets.
  4. Fusion occurs when the plasma reaches 150 million degrees Celsius — ten times hotter than the core of the Sun.
  5. In the fusion reaction, a tiny amount of mass is converted to a huge amount of energy.
  6. The ultra-high-energy neutrons from fusion escape the magnetic cage and transmit energy as heat.
  7. Water circulating in the walls of the Tokamak absorbs the escaped heat and makes steam. In a commercial plant, a steam turbine will generate electricity.
  8. Hundreds of Tokamaks have been built; but ITER will be the first to achieve a “burning” or self-heating plasma.

ITER Manuafacturing Countries

The Start of Assembly

ITER Cryosat

ITER Cryosat. Credit: ITER


Manufactured by India, the Cryostat is the “thermos” that surrounds the Tokamak Vacuum Vessel and superconducting magnets which confine the super hot plasma.

It is 30 meters (98.5′) high and 30 meters (98.5′) in diameter. It is the largest stainless steel vacuum chamber ever built.

It has four main pieces: the base, lower cylinder, upper cylinder, and top lid.

The lower cylinder is roughly the same dimensions as Stonehenge.

The Cryosat base section weighs 1,250 tons. (See video below.) It is the heaviest ITER component. It was the first major piece to be inserted into the Tokamak Pit, in May. It was settled into position with an accuracy of under 3 millimeters.

ITER’s magnets

ITER uses three closely integrated types of magnets to contain, control, shape, and pulse the 150 million degrees Celsius plasma.

In order to be superconducting, the magnets are cooled internally with -269 degrees Celsius liquid helium, the temperature of interstellar space.

ITER Toroidal Field Coils

The Toroidal Field Coils shown in gray. Credit: ITER

Toroidal Field (TF) Coils

Manufactured by Japan and Europe with components coming from China, Korea and Russia, more than 40 companies are involved in the manufacture of the 18 Toroidal Field (TF) Coils. (See video above.)

The function of the TF coils is to confine the ionized plasma particles. Each magnet is the height of a four-story building and weighs 360 tons.

The first two TF coils arrived at the ITER site in April from Japan and Italy.

ITER Poloidal Field Coils

The Poloidal Field Coils, shown in orange. Credit: ITER

Poloidal Field (PF) Coils

Manufactured by China, Europe and Russia, these magnets are ring-shaped and will be situated outside the TF coil system. The PF coils shape the plasma and hold it away from the walls.

There are six PF coils, ranging in diameter from 10 to 24 meters (33′ to 79′) and weighing up to 400 tons.

The first PF coil arrived at ITER in May from China. The second, made by Europe, was manufactured onsite.

Central Solenoid (CS)

ITER Central Solenoid Module

A Central Solenoid Module. Credit: ITER

Manufactured by the United States, this is the most powerful of ITER’s magnets. It is sometimes called the “beating heart” of ITER because it will initiate a powerful current in the plasma in long pulses.

The Central Solenoid is being fabricated in six modules. When combined, it will be 13 meters (43′) tall or 18 meters (59′) with the support structure and will weigh one thousand tons.

It will have the magnetic power to lift an aircraft carrier.

The independently operating CS coil packs will create massive electromagnetic forces that pull in different directions. The support structures will have to withstand forces equal to twice the thrust of a Space Shuttle lift-off.

The first CS module will arrive at ITER in Fall 2020.

Vacuum Vessel

ITER Vacuum Vessel

The ITER Vacuum Vessel. Credit: ITER

Manufactured by Korea (four sectors) and Europe (five) sectors, with the protruding port stubs supplied by Russia, the Vacuum Vessel is a hermetically sealed, donut-shaped stainless steel chamber. Inside, the plasma particles spiral around continuously without touching the walls.

Forty-four openings or ports in the vacuum vessel provide access for remote handling operations, diagnostics, heating, and vacuum systems.

The blanket modules lining the inner surfaces of the vessel will provide shielding from the high-energy neutrons produced by the fusion reactions.

The volume of the plasma contained in the center of the ITER vacuum vessel (840 m³) is ten times larger than any previous tokamak.

The first vacuum vessel sector arrived in France on July 21, enabling the start of machine assembly.

Buildings and civil works across the ITER worksite, constructed by Europe, are about 75 percent complete. Here are three examples.

The Tokamak Building and Assembly Hall have been completed, joined by a 170-meter overhead crane rail supporting two 750-ton cranes that will transport and position components.

The cryogenics facility, the largest centralized cryoplant in the world, is 60 percent completed. It provides the liquid helium for the extremely low temperatures for the superconducting magnets to work. The equipment comes from China, India, Sweden, Czech Republic, Finland, Italy, Japan, and France. The cryolines are primarily from India.

The magnet conversion buildings supplying power at precisely the right voltage and amperage to ITER’s magnets, are using specially designed equipment from China, India, Korea and Russia.

ITER Scientific Installation Conctruction

Construction of the ITER scientific installation began in 2010. Credit: ITER Organization

Assembling ITER, integrating the components delivered from around the world, is the responsibility of the central ITER Organization. This includes the assembly of the Tokamak itself as well as parallel installation of support systems such as radio frequency heating, fuel cycle, cryogenics, cooling water, vacuum, control, and high voltage electrical systems.

Principal assembly activities will take place in the Tokamak Building, where the ITER device will be installed in a partially embedded concrete bioshield. For the assembly phase, this building will operate as a clean area, and be maintained at a constant temperature to avoid the slightest distortion in the largest components.

More than 150 specialized tools, some weighing up to 800 tons, will be used to assemble, support, and position the Tokamak components.

The circular Tokamak will be pre-assembled in nine sub-assemblies in the adjacent Assembly Hall. Each 40-degree section will integrate a vacuum vessel sector, a protective silver-coated thermal shield and two toroidal field coils.

The size and weight of major Tokamak components, the tiny tolerances, the diversity of manufacturers and the tight schedule combine to make ITER an enormous engineering and logistics challenge.

Assembling the ITER machine will take 4.5 years.

11 Comments on "Fusion Energy Era: ITER Assembly Begins – World’s Largest Science Project to Replicate the Fusion Power of the Sun"

  1. So who is this “Dr. Bigot?”

  2. Bill Simpson | July 28, 2020 at 2:03 am | Reply

    I would be shocked if it can ever be done cheaply enough to be a commercial source of electricity. Look at fission. Compared to fusion, it is a relatively simple process. Yet it cost ever increasing billions of dollars to build the fission plants, with even wind and solar being a much cheaper source of electricity today.
    Even if they can get it to work, I expect the nuclear reactions to deteriorate the materials making up the reactor so rapidly, as to render the reactors useless in a relatively short time. That happens, and the maintenance cost will kill fusion. The fission plants we have today, have dense water to help protect the reactor vessel from much of the radiation which would deteriorate it. In a fusion reactor there is only a thin gas in the way, so to speak.
    Of course, they have to get it to produce more energy than it consumes, not just for a fraction of a second, but for far longer periods. Good luck with doing that.
    There are only three places where fusion has ever occurred. The most common place is in the center of stars. Duplicating those conditions inside some plant for long will be rather tough.
    The other is next to an exploding fission bomb, but only for a millionth of a second, before the entire thing blows apart. And the third is for a short time inside a very expensive scientific instrument, consuming vast amounts of electric power from the grid, ignoring the cost of the machine used to accomplish it.
    I suspect that fusion power will never be achieved, other than as a huge scientific experiment for a few seconds producing more energy than it consumes. Don’t expect fusion produced electricity from the grid, probably ever. Duplicating the conditions inside a star for very long isn’t exactly easy. And if it wasn’t for the magnetic field of Earth, the radiation and particles coming from the Sun fusion reactor would soon destroy nearly all life on Earth. Fusion is a high energy process. The Universe is filled with deadly radiation coming from fusion factories we call stars. We only exist because of the protective magnetic field, and thick atmosphere of this planet. Off this planet, you wouldn’t survive for very many years without heavy protective radiation shielding.

  3. I would just like to say, Bill Simons is a real optimistic guy!
    I would hope that most of the equations that Bill mentions will have been ironed out, before so much time and so many countries would have signed up to the project. I for one hope you are wrong . Because without Fusion the future of mankind is fuc—d.

  4. “Ever” is a pretty long time… 😉
    The past is filled with people who said idea xy will never work for reasons.

    While I agree that it might not be possible to exploit this principle commercially with the materials and tech we have today, that doesn’t mean there won’t be new materials a couple decades or centuries from now.
    ITER is still a research project whose main purpose is to produce knowledge and a deeper understanding of the process and not to power Euro Disneyland (if that still exists).

    Agreeing with Phil, as an advanced species we will have to make this work somehow, long term, otherwise we might not be able to take the necessary next steps for our long term survival.

  5. Climate change? Huh?

  6. … The great stuff if it works.
    If I could have my saying in that I would froze the H and then use magnets to hold them and then reheat it with lasers… However, I hope that would create enough energy, though!
    That is great if true, it would lead to clean energy…

  7. Robert Zaccano | July 28, 2020 at 9:10 am | Reply

    Bill Simmons is flat wrong on just about every front. If the fusion reactor fails for any reason, it just stops working. Sorry Bill, no earth shattering kaboom. The reaction is contained by a magnetic field many times more powerful than the relatively weak field that surrounds the Earth, so no one is getting fried. Wind and solar is not cheap nor environmentally benign. Do you know how they etch solar cells? Hydrofluoric acid. Pretty nasty stuff. Solar panels last about 30 years which is about the point they break even on cost. Wind turbines are fine, if the wind is blowing. They also are great for killing bats. Fusion is the future. Remember, only birds and bats used to fly now we do too.

  8. Rob Z forgot that wind turbines produce 60% currently unusable infrasound energy. Instead of beating our head against the fusion wall, perhaps we might expend some brain power to use resonances which really would be a breakthrough.

  9. The problem with this press release from ITER (copied from the Eureka Web site) is in this sentence: “The plant at ITER will produce about 500 megawatts of thermal power. If operated continuously and connected to the electric grid, that would translate to about 200 megawatts of electric power, enough for about 200,000 homes.” The ITER communications staff neglected to mention that the 500 MW value doesn’t account for the 300 MW of electricity the reactor will consume. When you account for that, it would translate to about 0 megawatts of electric power, enough for about 0 homes. Yes, seriously. It is a nasty deception. There is a dark side of ITER: http://news.newenergytimes.net/2020/06/15/the-dark-side-of-iter/

Leave a comment

Email address is optional. If provided, your email will not be published or shared.