As our scientific computational power produces powerful mathematical algorithms capable of doing things which were impossible 20 years ago, the time has come for exploring alternative energy sources. Scientists are zeroing in to produce energy similar to the sun using fusion “a star in a bottle.”
A sophisticated machine now being built in the south of France by the world’s smartest minds (approximately 550 scientists with 500 external contractors) holds out the promise of a brighter future by producing an unlimited amount of energy without pollution years from now, overcoming the current problem of running out of land to bury CO2 (a near-total ecological collapse) produced by fossil fuels by 2100.
This machine, called International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor ITER, will be much shorter than the Eiffel Tower, but it will be more than twice the weight of the tower, around twenty-three thousand tons. The ITER will be able to trap the energy produced by fusing two atoms of hydrogen to produce helium. The energy produced by this reaction, more than two hundred million degrees Celsius, capable of vaporizing a car in seconds, will be enough to save the world from the scarcity of energy. According to the ITER futuristic physical calculation, the machine will be able to function without interruption and accident-free for 100 years, enough time to advance the science to produce a better technology.
If you think this is a science fiction story, think again. The ITER project was signed in 2003 and officially launched on October 24, 2007. The location of this project was really a problem. It took a long time to decide where it would be. Finally, all ITER members unanimously agreed on the site suggested by the European Union in Cadarache near Aix-en-Provence in southern France.
The third Director-General of the ITER project Dr. Bernard Bigot started his job on March 5, 2015 and appeared on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS show. He assured us by saying that even with many scientific and funding challenges, the ITER will be built, achieving a scientific breakthrough benefiting all the people in this earth. The challenge of having a large project with multiple countries contributes to the frustrations of many scientists with unlimited problems and delays. Let us remember that NASA was funded by more than a hundred billion (in today’s dollars) to spend on the Apollo program, around 8 billion dollars a year for 14 years after Sputnik launched. The ITER will cost around thirty billion dollars after scaling down the size of the project since it was designed.
Many scientists and world leaders are very optimistic about the project. The following are some challenges that need to be addressed:
- At the ITER plant, many scientists are spending more than 16 hours of work per day increasing the high turnover and burn-out.
- The technology of slowing the energy produced by the fusion of hydrogen atoms using vacuums and magnets is not ready yet. Although there are a lot of prototypes, much research is still needed to solve the problem.
- The ITER machine was scaled down after enormous amounts of money were spent which made a lot of politicians (especially in the US) reconsider funding the project.
- The ITER Organizational management is still in chaos due to several countries – so many chefs.
- Many engineering problems are still solved under “creative engineering environment.”
- ITER”s original design is planned to perform for five hundred seconds. But in order for the reactor to be successful, the reactor needs to work continuously— which no one has figured out how to do.
- Many countries building different part of ITER are on time.
I am very optimistic about ITER. After all, the spaceship Enterprise in “Star Trek” was powered by fusion!
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