The World’s Largest Fusion Reactor

john July 11, 2011 No Comments

Since, 1932, researchers have been successful in combining hot fusion with nuclei. Till then the concept of cold fusion was used and did not produce any satisfactory results. The research in hot fusion is still continuing and they have been successful in providing danger-free, very good potential energy source without producing much wastes.
Some of the main advantages of a fusion power plant is that they will not produce any high radioactive waste which will live for a long period. They cannot be used as a deadly weapon and cannot be subjected to meltdown. Thus, it is clear that hot fusion reactor is a very good energy producer when compared to other low efficient conventional methods.
In order to produce such a reactor, an international research and experimenting project was made by the name International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). Researchers at ITER have decided to build the world’s biggest and most efficient “tokamak” nuclear reactor. Tokamak refers to the device that uses a magnetic field to restrict the plasma inside a vessel. Thus the fusion reaction process is experimented inside this vessel. The plasma that is restricted inside the vessel with the help of magnetic field is composed of deuterium and tritium, and two isotopes of hydrogen. The radio waves and micro waves, along with the particle beams rise the temperature inside the vessel to as high as 270 million degrees Fahrenheit. This is the minimum temperature that is required to support the fusion process.
The inside schematic of an ITER Tokahama nuclear reactor is shown below.

Fusion Reactor
Fusion Reactor

The basic working of a reactor is given below.
Firstly, the fuel in the form of two hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium is injected into the tokamak. The vessel will be filled with plasma, a huge mix of changed particles, as soon as an electric current heats the deuterium and tritium gases and ionizes them.The plasma produces high temperature heat as soon as radio waves, microwaves and high-energy deuterium particle react with it. This high temperature causes further reaction between deuterium and tritium and forms products like helium atom and a neutron.
Great care has to be taken in avoiding the plasma from touching the wall of the fusion reactor. Since it will have high temperatures, they may cause holes on the walls and hence leakage. To avoid this from happening, the charged particle is restricted in a magnetic field made from 39 superconducting poloidal, toroidal and central solenoid magnets positioned inside and outside the doughnut shaped vessel. Since the walls may also be affected from high energy neutrons, a 2 feet thick steel blanket lining is also coated around the wall.
When a tritium and deuterium nuclei react together they give away helium and a neutron. If the same process is carried out inside a tokamak fusion reactor, it would produce enormous heat (energy) that is more than enough to generate electricity by rotating a turbine.
The whole experiment is to be carried out in a place called Cadarache, the south of France. The researchers claim that this reactor will be the largest tokamak in the world, since it is capable of producing 500 megawatts of power.
But, they have clearly stated that the whole process will just be an experiment and thus, the reactor will not be used to produce electricity. After an outline of the whole experiment is made and the budget estimated, the work will start by 2019. If it turns out to be successful, a 2,000 to 4,000 megawatt producing power plant will be built by 2040!!
According to Richard Pitts, a scientist who is working on the project, the whole process is claimed to be very safe. He says that there will be no hazards or radiation leaks like what happened in Chernobyl and Fukoshima.
In order to carry out experiments, the researchers will have to face a lot of technical problems. Some of them are
The breeding of tritium is extremely difficult since the material is scarcely found anywhere on Earth. At any time, only 50 pounds of tritium is produced and it has a high decay rate. This scarcity is because the material is not naturally produced. But, there will not be any problem in producing deuterium as it not radio-active and it can be distilled from water. They can use the tritium used in other power plants, but if high-end experiments are to be carried out, they will have to produce their own supply. Neutrons from the fusion reaction could be used to convert a little of lithium into tritium.The inside schematic of an ITER Tokahama nuclear reactor is shown below.
According to Richard Pitts, a scientist who is working on the project, the whole process is claimed to be very safe. He says that there will be no hazards or radiation leaks like what happened in Chernobyl and Fukoshima.
In order to carry out experiments, the researchers will have to face a lot of technical problems. Some of them are:
The breeding of tritium is extremely difficult since the material is scarcely found anywhere on Earth. At any particular time only 50 pounds of tritium is produced and it has a high decay rate. This scarcity is because the material is not naturally produced. But, there will not be any problem in producing deuterium as it not radio-active and it can be distilled from water. They can use the tritium used in other power plants, but if high-end experiments are to be carried out, they will have to produce their own supply. Neutrons from the fusion reaction could be used to convert a little of lithium into tritium.
The researchers must also know which material can be used to build tokamak walls, as it could be easily worn down from the reaction with the by-products from the fusion reaction.
There could also occur maintenance problems as the workers inside the vessel could be affected by residual radioactivity. Thus, they will have to design robots that are capable of carrying small tasks like replacing faulty parts and so on.

 

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