• 3 minutes e-car sales collapse
  • 6 minutes America Is Exceptional in Its Political Divide
  • 11 minutes Perovskites, a ‘dirt cheap’ alternative to silicon, just got a lot more efficient
  • 2 hours Could Someone Give Me Insights on the Future of Renewable Energy?
  • 41 mins How Far Have We Really Gotten With Alternative Energy
  • 1 hour "What’s In Store For Europe In 2023?" By the CIA (aka RFE/RL as a ruse to deceive readers)
  • 2 days Bankruptcy in the Industry
  • 3 days The United States produced more crude oil than any nation, at any time.
Alex Kimani

Alex Kimani

Alex Kimani is a veteran finance writer, investor, engineer and researcher for Safehaven.com. 

More Info

Premium Content

The World’s Largest Nuclear Fusion Reactor Is Finally Being Built


What do The Dark Knight Rises, Back to the Future, Oblivion, and Interstellar have in common? They are sci-fi megahits that showcase a technology that scientists consider the Holy Grail of Energy: Nuclear fusion

Since the 1950s, moviegoers, scientists, and clean-energy buffs everywhere have obsessed about the vast possibilities of harnessing the almost inexhaustible supply of energy locked within atoms by creating our own miniature suns. Unfortunately, practical nuclear fusion technology has remained just that--a dream and a far-off mirage.

That is, until now. 

After 35 years of painstaking preparation and countless delays, scientists have finally broken ground by kicking off the five-year assembly phase of the massive International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), the world's largest fusion reactor, in Saint-Paul-les-Durance, France.

Funded by six nations, including the US, Russia, China, India, Japan, and South Korea, ITER will be the world's largest tokamak fusion device with an estimated cost of ~$24 billion and capable of generating about 500 MW of thermal fusion energy as early as 2025. 

Practical Fusion Power

Initially, the United States and the former Soviet Union were the first countries to conduct fusion research due to its potential for the development of atomic weapons. Consequently, fusion technology remained classified until the 1958 Atoms for Peace conference in Geneva. Fusion research became 'Big Science' in the 1970s thanks to a breakthrough at the Soviet tokamak.

However, it soon became clear that practical nuclear fusion would only make the desired progress through international cooperation due to high costs and the complexity of the devices involved. 

Related: ExxonMobil & Berkeley Make Major Breakthrough In Carbon Capture Tech

Nuclear fusion basically involves smashing together hydrogen atoms hard enough to form helium and release energy in the E=MC2 mass-energy equivalence. Fusion is the process through which all stars, from red dwarfs through the Sun to the most massive supergiants, generate vast amounts of energy in their cores by rising to temperatures of 4,000,000 K or higher. 

Nuclear fusion generates four times as much energy from the same mass of fuel as nuclear fission, a technology that involves splitting atoms that is currently employed in the world's nuclear reactors. Massive gravitational forces in the Sun and stars create the right conditions for fusion to proceed at considerably lower temperatures; however, earth's much smaller mass (1/330,000th of the Sun's mass) and smaller gravity means that much higher temperatures in the order of hundreds of millions of Kelvin are required to kickstart the process of nuclear fusion and sustain it.

Unfortunately, every fusion experiment so far has been energy negative, taking in more energy than it generates.

ITER is a nuclear power plant designed to demonstrate that carbon-free, energy-positive fusion energy can become a commercial reality. ITER plans to use tokamak reactors to confine a deuterium-tritium plasma magnetically. 

The big fundamental challenge here is for ITER to achieve a rate of heat emitted by a fusion plasma higher than the rate of energy injected into the plasma. It is only natural to wonder what is so different this time around that makes researchers confident that ITER will not be just another expensive experiment that will end up in nuclear fusion's trash heap.

In a past article, we reported that ITER scientists have successfully developed a new superconducting material--essentially a steel tape coated with yttrium-barium-copper oxide, or YBCO, which allows them to build smaller and more powerful magnets. This lowers the energy required to get the fusion reaction off the ground.  Related: Canada’s Oil Sands Production Poised To Grow Despite Pandemic

According to Fusion for Energy--the EU's joint undertaking for ITER--18 niobium-tin superconducting magnets, aka toroidal field coils, will be used to contain the 150 million degrees celsius plasma. The powerful magnets will generate a powerful magnetic field equal to 11.8 Tesla, or a million times stronger than the earth's magnetic field. Nearly 3,000 tonnes of these superconducting magnets will be connected by 200km of superconducting cables and kept at -269C by the world's largest cryostat manufactured in India.

Europe will manufacture ten of the toroidal field coils with Japan manufacturing nine. 

The 23,000-ton tokamak is designed to produce 500 MW of fusion power from 50 MW of input heating power, thus making it energy positive.

Cleaner Than Fission?

The world's 440 nuclear fission reactors generate about 10% of global electricity needs. A similar amount of fusion reactors could theoretically replace all coal-powered power plants, which currently supply nearly 40% of the world's electricity.


But other than their absurd power capabilities, fusion reactors have been touted as a perfect energy source since they cannot melt down and produce much less radioactive waste unlike fission reactors, which have in the past proven catastrophic from uncontrolled chain reactions.

But here's the irony of it all: Fission nuclear reactors remain the only reliable source of tritium for use in fusion reactors.

The deuterium-tritium reaction is favored by fusion developers over deuterium-deuterium mainly because its reactivity is 20x  higher than a deuterium-deuterium fueled reaction, and requires a temperature only a third of the temperature required by deuterium-only fusion. Unlike deuterium, which is readily available in ordinary water, tritium is rare in nature, mainly because this hydrogen isotope has a half-life of only 12.3 years.

If successful, ITER will become the world's first source of electrical power that does not exploit a naturally occurring fuel.

It's going to be interesting to see whether ITER and subsequent fusion power plants will incur the same ignominy that conventional nuclear energy has struggled to shake off.

By Alex Kimani for Oilprice.com

More Top Reads From Oilprice.com:

Download The Free Oilprice App Today

Back to homepage

Leave a comment
  • Henry Hewitt on July 31 2020 said:
    Too late / too expensive / unnecessary /
    And probably too dangerous. The extra terrestrial one hasn't missed a day in 4 billion years. This is a fool's errand.
  • Michael Lewis on August 06 2020 said:
    I concur with Mr. Hewitt. We have far more energy, it will eventually be proven, than we need. Point of order, the Moon has been attained. Adding frosting to the cake big-time, the Earth has surveyed the Solar System well, with close-up photos of every planet in it. No enemies, no threats, no danger. About 32,000 years ago, human beings made drawings of the phases of the Moon. It took thirty millennia to end superstition and fear. Now the Moon is a friend. Children can collect rocks here on Earth, some of which are just like Moon rocks. The danger of slowly increasing energy production until some new catastrophe happens - like the ammonium nitrate event recently - will continue to increase the occurrence of such destructive events as long as we humans fail to say, "Enough energy! We have more than we need already.

    There is a relation between the energy equivalent of matter, and the energy in light, m*c^2=h*nu. The equation itself does not contain energy per se. It is the equation of the sun's energy and the molecular chemicals in ancient and current land and water. That equation, which can like all equations be rearranged in dozens of ways, is the field of opportunity in which life emerged. To make the equation more tractable, nu is frequency and lambda is wavelength.

    The speed of light c becomes lambda*nu, which is wavelength*frequency.
    Then m*c^2 is mass*lambda^2*frequency^2.

    h is action, of course, one quantum of which comes in each light wave. From the sun, to provide photosynthesis, and so on.

    Then, h*nu=m*lambda^2*nu^2, and h, the action, becomes m*lambda^2*nu.
    That is, action=mass*lambda*2*nu. Action h = mass * wavelength^2 * frequency. It is a grace.
    The author has been intrigued by atomic energy since about 1947.

Leave a comment

EXXON Mobil -0.35
Open57.81 Trading Vol.6.96M Previous Vol.241.7B
BUY 57.15
Sell 57.00
Oilprice - The No. 1 Source for Oil & Energy News