ITER creates Can-fusion

Canuck group excited about complex fusion technology

Inside the UK’s JET Fusion Reactor. It has paved the way for ITER.
Inside the UK’s JET Fusion Reactor. It has paved the way for ITER.
Credit: 
Photo courtesy of www.jet.efda.org
Deuterium and tritium combine to form helium and a neutron in a fusion reaction.
Deuterium and tritium combine to form helium and a neutron in a fusion reaction.

With gas prices rising and power shortages in places like California, energy is a hot topic right now. There is talk of a resurgence of nuclear power, which nuclear enthusiasts argue is clean, efficient, and capable of producing the amount of energy the world needs.

The safety concerns of fuel storage still need to be overcome, however.

Along with the current fission plants, people in the nuclear industry and in the energy business have high hopes for the research and development of fusion-powered plants, which could produce a vast amount of energy. Canada is a key player in an international team that is working towards this goal. In current fission-powered nuclear reactors, neutrons collide with uranium and split atoms in two. As nuclear bonds are broken, energy is released, then converted into electricity.

Fusion is the opposite of fission. It occurs when two atoms collide, then stick together to form a new atom. In this case, however, the energy created from the nuclear bond is much greater than fissile energy.

Fusion is also simpler, since it occurs best with hydrogen, a readily available element. For decades scientists have of a sustainable fusion reaction. A fusion reactor could theoretically produce an unlimited amount of power with less fuel.

Iter Canada corporation is a part of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project. This collaboration between the European Union, Japan, Russia and Canada aims to begin work on a fusion research facility within the next few years. Iter Canada is not only proud to be a part of this international venture; they’re excited about the possible location. On June 7, Iter announced its official bid to build the reactor within Canadian borders. The proposed Clarington site—half an hour east of Toronto—is just east of the Darlington nuclear plant and would play host to 250 international scientists and researchers if the other nations agree to build it here.

“Canada has the best site in the world,” Dr. Peter Barnard told The Journal last week. Barnard, Chairman and CEO of Iter Canada and Queen’s alumnus, said Canada can not only offer the best technical site, but also tritium, which will come from the nearby Darlington Nuclear Generating Station. Canada is an excellent source of tritium, a hydrogen isotope that is necessary for the project. If the ITER reactor is in Canada there is also a better chance the U.S. will rejoin the project, which they left several years ago, said Barnard. The technical and financial influx from U.S. involvement would be a huge advantage for Iter, he added.

The Iter project has been called the world’s second-largest international collaborative science initiative, after the International Space Station. France and Japan are also vying for the ITER site, but most partners feel the advantage is Canada’s, Barnard said.

The Canadian bid was the first to be announced, scooping the competition. The lower cost, proximity to the U.S., and the site itself are all very good reasons for Canada to be the host, reports Iter’s official web site. “My goal is simple: to land the project in Canada,” Barnard said. With the government now officially on side and the announcement June 7, that goal is now within grasp.

Barnard also mentioned that Canada is an agreeable choice for the other ITER partners, since it is not a major fusion power. The bigger fusion producing nations, such as France and Japan, may prefer the project be housed in an impartial third country, such as Canada. The Canadian government has publicly announced its support for Iter. With this government endorsement, Iter has gained leverage in international negotiations concerning fusion research.

There’s something in the project for all Canadians, says Barnard.

“This new form of energy will be beneficial for Canada and mankind...the benefit is enormous,” said Barnard. As energy consumers, it is necessary to be aware of new initiatives in the power-creation industry. Barnard calls the project a “culmination of what many people have called the greatest scientific quest of mankind.”

Power from a commercial fusion plant is still at least a century away, says Barnard, but the research being done today is bringing that possibility closer all the time. Regardless of the site, the reactor is scheduled to begin construction by the end of 2003. It will take a further eight years to build, and the research and development is expected to last over 20 years. Experimental plants will need to be built and tested before commercial energy from fusion is possible. But the hope of a continuous energy source to last a millennium or more is an important one, Barnard said.

Comparing Fuel Types

The amount of fuel, in kilograms, it would take to light up Toronto for 12 hours is as follows:

Coal: 12,960,000 kg

Oil: 9,504,000 kg

Uranium (fission): 950.4 kg

Fusion: 3.715 kg

Source: ITER Canada

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