By Andrew Thomas

Fusion energy has been at the forefront of many a conversation over the past decade or so among physicists. Some have even gone as far as to label it as the “fuel of the future” or as the “ultimate energy source” according to Robert Rosner, a University of Chicago plasma physicist. Some of the reasoning behind this name is because the ingredients used for fusion are found in abundance and its byproducts are minimal. It’s a win-win situation.

Creating fusion energy escapes a number of issues including the lack of fuel, meltdowns, waste disposal and terror risk. And, the principle behind fusion is simple enough too. What happens is when a particular lightweight atomic nucleus is merged at high temperatures more energy is produced than what went in to make it which means that extra energy can then be used to generate electricity. Because some of the mass is converted into pure energy, the byproducts also end up weighing less than it did, to begin with.

The trouble is that fusion is easy to explain, but much more difficult to execute as to merge nuclei is near-impossible. Fusion is created easily within stars because the gas within is so dense. In order to replicate and sustain fusion, we need to be able to produce the same effect. Unfortunately, there is no material on Earth that could withstand this heat and so scientists have to stop the super-hot plasma from touching anything during the process.

But, it is possible to create nuclear fusion and scientists have used tokamaks (ring-shaped fusion reactors) in the past to do it for short bursts. And, the bigger the tokamak, the easier it is to do. The problem is these things cost a lot of money, but then that’s where ITER comes in. The ITER is Latin for “the way” and is an international project that’s based in southern France. It has 35 member countries and a collaborative goal to build the largest ever tokamak to finally be able to prove the feasibility of fusion energy. But, the cost is high and so far billions of dollars have been poured into the project from various member states, but there’s still a long road ahead…

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