Generally, we associate the south of France with holidays on the Cote d'Azur, fields of lavender and the Cannes Film Festival, but not with science. However, for several years, the "construction site of the century" has been animating the Marseille area: the construction of an experimental international thermonuclear reactor (ITER) near the Cadarache Research Center. We are talking about the biggest construction of a single reactor of its kind in the world - an "imitation of the sun," capable of producing 7 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year. ITER literally means International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor. But we have found a nicer interpretation. The name of the project can be explained through the Latin translation of iter - route. Certain countries have prudently started abandoning the use of the word "reactor" in order to not arouse associations of danger and radiation. The new reactor is being built by experts from around the world: Russia, India, Japan, China, South Korea, the US and the European Union.
The Europeans make up a single group in charge of 46 percent of the project, and each other country is in charge of 9 percent of it. In order to simplify payments, a special currency was invented within the organization - ITER Units of Account (IUA). All the agreements for the delivery of the parts and components are concluded through this means. In such a way, the result of the construction work is not subject to the fluctuations of national currencies or the cost of production of parts in each country. For these investments, which do not take the form of money but of components and of future mechanisms, the participants receive total access to all the technologies used for ITER. In such a way, an "international school for the creation of a thermonuclear reaction" is being developed in France.
The Hottest Reactor in the Universe
The ITER staff compares the project to the sun so often that it's hard to come up with another association. "The temperature on the inside of the reactor will near 150 million degrees Celsius, which is six times the temperature of the sun's core, and the magnetic field of the reactor will be 200,000 times stronger than the Earth's," explains Mario Merola, head of one of the departments of ITER. ITER is based on the tokamak system - a torus-shaped room for confining plasma in a magnetic field. The idea of magnetically confining plasma at a high temperature was developed and technically realized for the first time in Russia at the Kourtchatov Research Institute in the middle of the 20th century. The creator of the project, Russia fabricated one of the essential parts of the mechanism; the "heart of ITER" - a magnetic superconductor system. (Note: The section regarding "Shared Challenges" was not included in final translation. Please visit the original article for more background on the topic.)
The Construction Site of the Century
The ITER area is an immense construction site today. The "heart" of the site - the tokamak and the service quarters - will occupy an area of 400,000 square meters (roughly 37,161 square feet). A 20-meter (65.6 feet) deep hole has been dug for the reactor, where the armatures and other necessary elements are dispatched on a very sleek tarmac. The first step is to assemble the wall segments horizontally by attaching the metal work with special plaques. These segments will then be installed with cranes. In a few years, this site will be indistinguishable. In place of a large hole on the platform there will be a building the size of the Bolshoi Theatre - around 40 meters high (about 131 feet). In some places, construction has yet to begin. This is because other countries cannot exactly predict when the components for the thermonuclear reactor will be delivered. In other places, this has already happened.
The Sun's Highway
"We, humanity, depend more and more on resources and we do nothing but consume them. We need to think of future generations. We need to start dreaming again," affirms the American Mark Henderson, a plasma heating specialist with ITER. The participants think, dream and put into action the most fantastic and unbelievable ideas. And no political agenda can get in the way of the work of the researchers. The differences will sort themselves out sooner or later, while the heat obtained from the thermonuclear reaction will heat the entire world independently of the continent or the government.
Do you think this construction project poses a danger to the surrounding areas? Should we build more thermonuclear reactors to produce energy? Are there any thermonuclear reactors near or in your community? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.
Original article, originally published in French on Sputnik News, here.
Credits: Data and images linked to sources.