Research & Development

Iter / New Schedule For Delayed Fusion Project Sees Initial Operation In 2035

By David Dalton
21 June 2024

Iter Council says progress has been made on repairs to key components

New Schedule For Delayed Fusion Project Sees Initial Operation In 2035
The €20 billion Iter nuclear fusion project is under construction in southern France. Courtesy Iter Organisation.

The director-general of the €20bn ($21.4bn) International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter) nuclear fusion project in southern France has announced a new schedule that aims for initial operation in 2035.

The new schedule plans for deuterium-deuterium fusion operation in 2035, a level of operation that is designed for testing, but releases limited energy.

The Iter Organisation has been working on what Pietro Barabaschi described as a realistic project timeline since he took up the role two years ago.

The previous baseline, established in 2016, was for initial operation in 2025, but Barabaschi said last year that that deadline would have to be postponed.

In a statement issued after a meeting this week, the Iter Council, which comprises representatives of the six Iter members, said that in two weeks Barabaschi will hold a press conference to provide additional details of the proposal, which will lead to “a scientifically and technically robust” initial phase of operations, including deuterium-deuterium fusion operation in 2035 followed by full operation.

“The proposed baseline will be further evaluated and validated, including the increased cost and the schedule implications driven by this new approach, and recommendations will be shared with the Iter Council for consideration,” the statement said.

The Iter Council noted that progress had been achieved on repairs to key components including the vacuum vessel thermal shields and the vacuum vessel sectors and that manufacturing, assembly and installation was progressing.

In November 2022, defects were identified in two key first-of-a-kind tokamak components for the plant with the project facing potential delays while repairs are carried out.

Iter confirmed in a project update at the time that the two components were the vacuum vessel thermal shields and the vacuum vessel sectors.

The issues “demand in-depth examination, creativity in devising corrective actions, and time and budget to repair”, Iter said.

Assembly Phase Underway

In July 2020, the Iter project – the biggest of its kind in the world – began its assembly phase, which was scheduled to last five years.

Millions of components will be used to assemble the giant reactor, which will weigh 23,000 tonnes and the project is the most complex engineering endeavour in history.

Almost 3,000 tonnes of superconducting magnets, some heavier than a jumbo jet, will be connected by 200 km of superconducting cables, all kept at minus-269 Celsius by the world’s largest cryogenic plant.

Europe is contributing almost half of the cost of Iter’s construction. The other members of the venture – China, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the US – are contributing the rest equally.

The UK’s membership in Iter lapsed earlier this year when it dropped out of the European Atomic Energy Community, or Euratom, and efforts to find a compromise solution have stalled.

The fusion industry is essentially trying to replicate on Earth the forces that power the sun, potentially producing limitless low-carbon energy. At extreme temperatures and pressures, atoms collide and “fuse” releasing huge amounts of energy in the process. That means that even small amounts of fuel have a huge amount of intrinsic energy.

The Iter Council reaffirmed after this week’s meeting that the fusion operations pursued by Iter remain strongly relevant for global fusion research and development and the national fusion programmes of the Iter members.

File photo from September 2023 of the Iter site in southern France. Courtesy Iter Organisation/EJF Riche.

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