For the first time in India, nuclear scientists, researchers and physicists from over 40 countries came together under one roof to explore new avenues in energy generation through nuclear fusion technology.

Noted Indian physicist and former Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission R Chidambaram inaugurated the 27th edition of week-long biennial Fusion Energy Conference (FEC) on Monday at Mahatma Mandir in Gandhinagar.

ITER project

The key attraction of FEC is International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER, which is a mega-project for fusion energy.

The nodal agency for the project in India is Institute for Plasma Research (IPR), Gandhinagar, which is jointly organising the event with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The top officials of ITER confirmed that the project has reached 58 per cent of completion and is likely to start generating power by 2035.

As an ITER member, India is responsible for about 9 per cent of in-kind contribution to the ITER project. This contribution is in the engineering and development of key components, including cryostat, cooling water systems, vessel in-wall shielding blocks, radio frequency heating sources, and diagnostic neutral beam system among others.

Fusion technology

Terming the fusion technology the rising source for the global energy security, Chidambaram said, “Nuclear energy can be considered near-renewable. We are discussing fission here. But the near-renewable factor will increase much higher if we have fusion. I see fusion as an essential and attractive, zero-carbon fuel option, if the technology can be mastered.”

“There is no other new energy source on the horizon,” he said addressing a gathering of scientists and researchers working in plasma science and technologies relevant to controlled nuclear fusion.

The reactions in which nuclei of hydrogen isotopes “fuse” together and produce energy are considered to be a clean, abundant and safe source of energy for the future.

The challenge before the fusion community is to hold a sufficiently dense and hot plasma (a collection of electrons and ions) for a sufficiently long time to obtain net power output.

Indian partnership

Sharing a highlight on the international collaborative project, ITER, Bernard Bigot, Director-General of ITER stated that the project, where India joined as a full partner with 9.3 per cent contribution for construction of cryostat with ₹10,000 crore worth of in-kind contribution to the overall ITER project. So far, orders worth ₹3,500 crore have been placed with companies such as L&T, Kirloskar, INOX, TCS and ECIL among others are top participants.

“The member countries of ITER will get no-cost full access to the Intellectual Property of the project to use it for themselves. This project is an attempt to be able to supply energy to the world at an competitive rate. At the moment, the technology is at the development stage. Once it is ready, we need to look at the economics,” said Bigot, adding that average 58 per cent of the overall ITER project has been completed so far.

“We are expecting full-fusion power generation by 2035. The construction and assembly of all units to be completed by 2025,” he added.