ITER is an international collaboration to build the first fusion science experiment capable of producing a self-sustaining fusion reaction, as a way of generating a clean, safe, and sustainable power. The founding partners of the ITER project are: the European Union (represented by EURATOM and including Switzerland), Japan, the Russian Federation, the United States of America, the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of Korea and India.
ITER represents the next logical step in the development of fusion power and in general terms aims to confine a plasma with reactor-relevant density and temperature for significant times and with reactor-relevant thermal power output. The specific Project objectives are given below. Results from ITER should provide the information required to construct a demonstration/prototype fusion reactor.
More about the ITER project
The overall objective of ITER is to demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion energy for peaceful purposes.
ITER will accomplish this objective by demonstrating extended burn of deuterium-tritium plasmas, with steady-state operation as an ultimate goal. In addition, the ITER Project intends to demonstrate the availability and integration of fusion technologies (e.g. superconducting magnets and remote maintenance) and to test components of a future reactor e.g. systems to exhaust power and particles from the plasma and tritium breeding concepts.
During the design phase of ITER, full-size prototypes of key components were manufactured by industrial firms and tested. These seven large research and development projects were all successful and this prototype manufacture and testing programme has provided considerable confidence that ITER can be built to perform as designed.
Machine construction has been started (late 2007) with a search for firms that can carry out the necessary work. The work has been divided among the ITER partners as their contribution to the project cost over the construction period (see figure).
The Broader Approach
The founding ITER Partners have, in addition to the construction, operation and exploitation of ITER, agreed a Broader Approach to the development of fusion energy (specifically a contract between the European Union and Japan). This includes the development of appropriate materials for a fusion reactor (with an international fusion materials neutron irradiation facility), as well as the design of the demonstration/prototype reactor based on the knowledge gained from ITER.
Consequences for Australia
For other countries involved in fusion research, the ITER Project and the Broader Approach Agreement threaten to leave them on the sidelines. Thus, there is considerable motivation for such countries to formally become involved with the ITER Project and its partners.
The Australian ITER Forum is currently seeking Australian involvement with the ITER project, not only to secure near-term economic and political benefits for Australia, but to improve Australian science and scientific industry. The training and retention of scientific skills and the fostering of international research links will enhance Australia’s overall scientific credentials.
Australia is also in the advantageous position of possessing a large number of resources of rare metals (Li, V, Ta) that could be used for construction of not only ITER, but also of future fusion reactors.
The Australian ITER forum considers negotiating a formal participation in ITER as a matter of urgency. A national or international center should be established to consolidate Australia’s fusion research efforts.
On 21 November 2006 the ITER participants signed the ITER Agreement which forsees that ITER will be built at Cadarache, near Aix-en-Provence, France. The ITER Agreement has been signed and ratified and it entered into force on 24 October 2007. The construction period has begun. The site has been cleared and leveled (early 2009) and building should start soon. First plasma is now expected to be achieved in 2020.
In the left foreground is the Poloidal Field Coil Winding Building, inside which these coils will be prepared. The building on the right is the Cryostat Assembly Building where the Indian Party will assemble parts of the cryostat before they are moved to the tokamak pit where the completed cryostat will enclose the tokamak. In the centre, the Assembly Hall is beginning to take shape with the steel supports for the roof reaching skywards. Behind this, work continues on the Tokamak Building pit walls. The tokamak will sit in the pit, half below ground. Behind the construction site sits the completed the ITER headquarters building.