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Design of EUROfusion, a European commercial nuclear fusion power plant, is now underway

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It’s official: Design has now begun for a European nuclear fusion power plant with the goal of commercializing this “clean” electricity by 2054. The first phase, which will last five years, will be dedicated to key technological decisions that will enable fusion power to move forward. From concept to commercial exploitation. The demonstration plant, named Demo, is expected to generate 300 to 500 MW of electricity.

Research in the field of nuclear fusion is progressing well. It is actually one of the best solutions for producing energy without CO2 emissions or radioactive waste. Because it relies on virtually inexhaustible resources and poses no risk (to humans or the environment), nuclear fusion is considered a safe and sustainable source of energy. Many physicists are trying to design a better reactor capable of producing more energy than is needed to start and sustain the fusion reaction.

records, In terms of performance And plasma lifetimes, are getting more and more frequent – evidence that we are getting closer to the goal. Most projects use tokamaks designed to control burning plasma using powerful magnets. The demo plant is no exception: it rests on a tokamak, which then collects the heat of the reaction to turn it into electricity. But several parameters need to be defined before considering its construction.

The project brings together nearly 5,000 professionals from across Europe

The EUROfusion Research Consortium brings together nearly 5000 experts from across Europe in the world’s largest and most comprehensive fusion R&D program. Earlier this year, EUROfusion researchers demonstrated the potential of fusion by already installing 59 megajoules is a world record Sustained fusion energy at the Joint European Torus (JET) in Culham, UK – currently the world’s largest and most powerful tokamak.

JET Fusion Energy Log
In February 2022, the collective European Taurus broke the energy record by producing 59 megajoules. Data from these experiments are important for the development of future fusion reactors. © UK Atomic Energy Commission

This latest record reinforces the credibility of the ITER project, currently under construction in the south of France – whose first plasma production is scheduled for December 2025 – and supports the development of the demo plant. JET, like all other existing Tokamas, serves as a kind of test bed; They are an opportunity to test different materials and control devices to determine the best way to produce energy. But so far, no “net gain” in energy has been achieved.

The plant can control and sustain plasma more than any experiment conducted so far. Until then, many issues must be clarified, starting with the reproduction of tritium – one of the two fuels required for the reaction. The fusion of deuterium and tritium (which are two isotopes of hydrogen) produces a helium nucleus. Neutron. Deuterium can be derived from water, so it is virtually inexhaustible. Tritium is produced during the fusion reaction Neutrons The created vacuum will interact with the lithium modules that comprise the chamber.

It is still necessary for neutrons to escape from the plasma and strike the walls of the tokamak and be able to resist the penetration of these neutrons! This is valid not only for the demonstration plant but also for all other fusion reactors like ITER. Careful consideration should also be given to the shape of the tokamak, whether elongated or spherical.

State of the art shared with the entire scientific community

The team behind the demo presented the results of its pre-concept phase (2014-2020) in a special issue of the journal. Fusion Engineering & Design. Thus it shares the state of the art in the design of demonstration plants, 25 through open access scientific publications, peer reviewed. Design of magnets, choice of materials, tritium production, heat extraction, nuclear safety, … absolutely all important points are addressed.

DEMO’s design and R&D activities in Europe benefit greatly from the experience gained during the design, licensing and construction of ITER. Gianfranco Federici, Head of Fusion Technology at EUROfusion, and Tony Donne, EUROfusion Project Director, underline. However, both remind us that uncertainties in fusion science and engineering persist throughout the design and engineering phases.

Both researchers note that Demo’s work cannot wait until ITER is completed: ” If demo engineering design efforts begin too long after ITER delivery, highly skilled and experienced personnel will be lost to other industries, with inevitable brain drain and loss of lessons learned. They write at the end of the articles, urging that education and training programs for nuclear fusion support its development and deployment.

The conceptual design is expected to be completed by 2027, but the demo is unlikely to be the world’s first nuclear fusion power plant. In fact, many private companies in the field, such as Tokamak energy And First light fusionIn the United Kingdom, expect a plant to be commissioned in the 2030s. China announced That’s his China Fusion Engineering Test Reactor (CFETR) will generate up to 2 GW when completed in 2035. The UK is also said to be about to launch its first fusion power plant. called STEP (For this Spherical tokamak for energy production), the construction of which will be completed in 2040.

Source: EUROfusion

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