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Home Discover the advances in nuclear fusion that invite us to something exciting: looking at this source of energy with more optimism than ever

Discover the advances in nuclear fusion that invite us to something exciting: looking at this source of energy with more optimism than ever

29/05/2024 às 12:57
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Nuclear energy - energy - nuclear fusion - ITER - WEST
Discover the records and advances in nuclear energy with the ITER and WEST reactors. Learn how these experiments are shaping the future of nuclear fusion and revolutionizing science

Discover the records and advances in nuclear energy with the ITER and WEST reactors. Learn how these experiments are shaping the future of nuclear fusion and revolutionizing science

When it is completely assembled and the first tests With plasma, ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) will be the largest and most advanced experimental nuclear power reactor on Earth. It is being built in Cadarache, a small town in the south of France, by an international consortium led by Europe, in which the USA, Russia, China, India and South Korea also participate, among other countries.

This extremely complex machine has been attracting all the attention for more than a decade, but it is by no means the only experimental fusion reactor worth tracking. In fact, a few kilometers from the site where ITER is being built, there is another experimental fusion reactor called WEST ('W' Environment in Steady-state Tokamak). This machine is the real protagonist of this article. An interesting fact: the 'W' in its name comes from the symbol used to identify one of the chemical elements used in its manufacture, tungsten.

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WEST milestone paves the way for ITER

The role of the WEST fusion reactor within the international nuclear fusion program is essentially the same as that of the JET (Joint European Torus) reactor, housed in Oxford (England), or the JT-60SA in Naka (Japan): testing and validating some of the technologies that will be used in ITER. In short, these smaller experimental reactors aim to pave the way for ITER, which will be a much larger machine. And also more complex and ambitious.

WEST is housed in a research complex belonging to the French Atomic Energy Commission (known as CEA for its name in French), although during the experiment we are going to explore, it was operated by American scientists belonging to the University's Plasma Physics Laboratory. from Princeton, New Jersey (USA). What these researchers achieved using this French tokamak is indeed a record: they maintained a plasma at a temperature of 50 million degrees Celsius for no less than six minutes and four seconds.

It may seem like a short time, but it isn't. It's a lot. In fact, as we anticipated in the title of this article, it is a record in the field of fusion energy. And it is due to the fact that, for now, it is not at all easy to stabilize the plasma and minimize energy losses that prevent sustaining the fusion reaction over time. In experimental nuclear fusion reactors, scientists confine charged hydrogen nuclei using a magnetic field.

What happens is that, no matter how powerful this field is, it always has an intensity limit and the particles, when they are produced, acquire very varied energies. Some have a lot of energy, and others, however, acquire little energy. Reactor engineers are able to contain the average energy, but those particles that exceed this energy value have the ability to escape the magnetic field. The problem is that if too many particles escape, too much energy is lost and the fusion reaction cannot be sustained over time.

Fortunately, this challenge can be solved by modulating the magnetic fields and increasing the size of the plasma. This is the reason why every experimental reactor is bigger than the previous one. Another very important piece of information derived from this experiment is the fact that, to start the reaction, technicians injected 1,15 gigajoules of energy into the tokamak, and it delivered 15% more as a result of the fusion of hydrogen nuclei. The start of plasma tests at ITER is getting closer every day, and this result encourages us to rub our hands together. If all goes well, this promising reactor will break one record after another.

Image | CEA
More information | Le Monde

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