What Is Fusion Energy?
Fusion is the energy source of the sun and other stars, and all life on Earth is based on fusion energy by the sun. The fuels burned in a fusion reactor are hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium. The fusion products are high energy neutrons and alpha particles (i.e., non-radioactive helium). Deuterium resources are practically unlimited, and tritium can be produced from lithium, which is abundant. The fusion reactions occur only at very high temperatures. For the deuterium-tritium reaction, temperatures over 100 million °C are required for sufficient fusion burn. At these temperatures, the fuel gas is fully ionised plasma. High temperatures can be achieved by injecting energetic particle beams or high power radio-frequency waves into the plasma.
The hot plasma is thermally isolated from the material walls by strong magnetic fields, which form a “magnetic bottle” to confine the fuel plasma. With a sufficiently large plasma volume, much more energy is released from fusion reactions than is required to heat and confine the fuel plasma. In fact, fusion plasma can be ignited to burn without external heating when the alpha heating takes over the heat losses from the plasma.
Fusion is a good candidate for supplying base load electricity on a large scale. Fusion has practically unlimited fuel resources and it is environmentally sound.
ITER International Fusion Energy Organisation
To advance significantly beyond the present generation of fusion devices, a next step device, enabling the investigation of burning plasma in near-reactor conditions, is needed. This will be done in the global ITER project (“iter” is “way” in latin), which is the joint project of EU, Japan, Russia, US, China, India and South Korea. The ITER International agreement was signed by the parties in Elysée Palace hosted by the President of France Jacques Chirac, Paris, on 21 November 2006. ITER started as an international legal entity from 27 November 2007. The site preparations and the earthwork have been done and first buildings are under construction. Procurements arrangements for big components (magnets and vacuum vessel) are ready and work is underway. The director general of ITER is Bernard Bigot. Approximately 550 directly employed staff and 500 external contractors work for the ITER Project in Saint Paul-lez-Durance, France.
The European organisation “The Joint European Undertaking for ITER and the Development of Fusion Energy, “Fusion for Energy” (F4E) was established in early 2007. The main task of “Fusion for Energy” is to provide European in-kind contributions for ITER being one of the Domestic Agencies for ITER including component and system procurements and technology R&D for ITER.