Science and Technology

150 million° C in France

| Updated on July 04, 2021

The core of the sun is a blistering 15 million degrees C. But a particular spot in Cadarache, southern France, will be ten times hotter.

That is where an international consortium is building the $25-billion International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER. India is a member of the consortium, which wants to produce a fusion reactor, where energy is generated by getting hydrogen (isotope) atoms to fuse into a helium atom. During the fusion, an infinitesimal part of the ‘matter’ becomes energy. It may be recalled that in June last year, L&T shipped to Cadarache a 30-metre-tall, 30-metre-wide, 3,850-tonne stainless steel refrigerator (cryostat).

Last month, a California-based company called General Atomics shipped to the ITER site the first piece of the world’s most powerful magnet ever made. The doughnut-shaped (or toroidal) magnet would stand as tall as six elephants stacked up and weigh 1,000 tonnes. Its job is to provide an incredibly powerful magnetic field to contain the plasma — a cloud of hyper-mobile electrons and ions (protons and neutrons). For the required magnetic field — 280,000 times earth’s magnetic field — you’d need a frightfully large current; so the magnet features some 100,000 km of niobium-tin coils, which will be supercooled (for superconductivity) so that they conduct massive amounts of electricity. If stretched, the coil can circle the earth twice over.

When the shooting protons and electrons collide, some of them merge — this fusion creates energy (heat). If the amount of energy generated is more than what you put in, you are in business. ITER hopes for that — it wants to put in 50 GW and get 500 MW. All this, of course, is going to take 10-15 years.

Published on July 04, 2021

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