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More Than 10x Hotter Than The Sun: How The ITER Fusion Reactor Is Paving The Way Toward Limitless Energy

In the pursuit of a groundbreaking energy revolution, experts the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) are on a mission to unlock the potential of fusion reactions. This ambitious endeavor holds the promise of providing a sustainable and clean alternative to traditional fossil fuels and nuclear fission. ITER means "The Way" in Latin.

Unlike the well-established nuclear fission technology that powers numerous reactors globally, fusion is potentially more powerful and safer. It involves the collision of two smaller particles to form a heavier atom, whereas fission splits larger atoms to generate energy. However, fusion produces significantly more energy and does not generate the radioactive waste that is a necessary part of fission reactions. According to the United States Department of Energy, fusion presents a cleaner and more efficient energy solution.

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ITER, a group of 35 collaborating countries, has pursued fusion reactions since 2005. The organization's main France-based research center focuses on developing a massive magnetic confinement chamber, known as a tokamak. When completed, the structure will weigh more than 25,000 tons and endure temperatures of up to 302 million degrees Fahrenheit. By comparison, the sun reaches around 27 million degrees Fahrenheit at its core, according to NASA data.

ITER’s main goal is to investigate and demonstrate burning plasmas, where the energy from fusion reactions sustains the plasma temperature, potentially eliminating the need for external heating, while also testing crucial fusion reactor technologies and validating tritium breeding module concepts for future self-sufficient reactors.

Because of the project’s complexity, it has faced setbacks, with the initial budget of $5.5 billion skyrocketing to nearly $22 billion. To adhere to their timeline, experts at the facility plan to skip the first plasma testing milestone, aiming to achieve fusion power by 2035. During an interview with Euronews Next, ITER communication lead Laban Coblentz acknowledged the project’s complexity, attributing challenges to the groundbreaking nature of the research.

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While ITER faces challenges, other teams are also exploring innovative nuclear projects. Industrial electric and nuclear manufacturer Westinghouse Electric Corp. is developing a small fission reactor set to go online in 2029. The company's eVinci Micro Reactor is an innovative small modular reactor designed for clean, reliable and compact energy generation. This microreactor offers a promising solution for decentralized power needs, supporting sustainable energy development and a owered carbon footprint. Its portability and ability to power remote locations for up to eight years without water make it a unique and environmentally friendly solution.

ITER’s team draws inspiration from the sun's fusion process and is hoping to harness fusion as an energy source, rather than relying solely on solar panels to tackle the world's energy needs and slow climate change. In an interview with Euronews Next, Coblent stressed the importance of expediting the arrival of fusion, saying, “The longer that we wait for fusion to arrive, the more we need it. So the smart money is: Get it here as fast as possible."

As ITER and other innovators strive to revolutionize the energy landscape, the dream of everlasting and sustainable energy moves closer to reality.

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