Work has begun to assemble giant components to build an experimental nuclear fusion reactor in France that is expected to start up in 2035 and deliver energy in a process inspired by the sun, the ITER project said on Tuesday.
Launched in 2006, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) had planned to test its first super-heated plasma by this year and achieve full fusion by 2023.
However, it has suffered massive budget overruns and multiple delays as the seven partners — Europe, the US, China, India, Japan, Russia and South Korea — struggle to coordinate financing and technological cooperation.
“Constructing the machine piece by piece will be like assembling a three-dimensional puzzle on an intricate timeline,” ITER director-general Bernard Bigot said in a statement on Tuesday. “We have a complicated script to follow over the next few years.”
ITER confirmed that when assembly is completed in December 2025, it will launch first plasma, which should prove the reactor concept works.
Despite delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, ITER was still on track to start in full power mode in 2035, a spokeswoman said.
In the past few months huge components — many weighing several hundred tonnes each — have begun to arrive in France.
These have been produced by ITER consortium member states, who contribute to the project by manufacturing components in national factories and laboratories before shipping them to France.
Unlike fission reactors, which produce energy by splitting atoms, ITER would generate power by combining atoms in a process similar to the nuclear fusion that produces the sun’s energy.
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