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The Super-Strong Magnet: Lifting an Aircraft Carrier

March 1, 2023
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Just over a week ago, researchers and engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC) made headlines by announcing the successful test of a large-scale magnet assembly that, when completed, could help the MIT team achieve “net energy” with their nuclear fusion reactor. Now, scientists at the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in France have received the first major piece of a separate, massive magnet system as part of their long-term quest to bring energy from nuclear fusion to a global state.

According to an Associated Press report, the enormous magnet weights 100 tons, or about 227,000 pounds, is the first of seven of the same parts to be delivered to the ITER team by the end of summer. The part is a crucial element of the reactor system, which are made up of giant magnets designed to sustain a super-heated plasma, harnessing the power of fusion. It’s an opportunity the ITER team eagerly waited for — it was initially expected to arrive this month, but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The team is optimistic about the delivery, alluding to the significant progress being made towards achieving a nuclear fusion reaction. ITER Director-General Bernard Bigot said that the arrival of the first part symbolizes the start of the project’s “delivery phase.”

“Today is a milestone for ITER, for fusion energy and for mankind,” Bigot said.

With the delivery of this huge magnet and other crucial parts ahead, ITER sees the long-awaited project coming to a realization. By 2025, the ITER team hopes to have the full system running and producing 500 megawatts of power — enough to power hundreds of thousands of homes with clean energy.

The implications of nuclear fusion to the world would be immense. Unlike current nuclear power sources like fission, which split atoms’ nuclei apart to create energy, fusion offers an envionmentally-friendly option. In fusion, atoms’ nuclei are merged instead, emitting much less hazardous waste than what is released with the fission process.

The magnets set to be delivered ITER are crucial to the success of the project. Each of the seven giant magnets is designed to contain the high temperatures essential for a fusion reaction. This environment, according to a report by the Institute for Energy Research, will remain stable for approximately 10 minutes — a short amount of time compared to the duration of regular nuclear fossil fuels, but long enough for the collection of energy from the reaction.

The start of the ITER project’s “delivery phase” is an exciting if overdue start to a project that may change how the world accesses energy. The safe and clean production of energy from nuclear fusion is a goal that teams around the world, like the one at MIT, are committed to make a reality. While the magnitude of the ITER project and the mysteriousness of nuclear fusion instill a sense of awe, it is important to note too that the delivery of the first part marks only the beginning of this ongoing initiative.

As part of the ongoing quest to find sustainable and clean energy sources, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor team’s efforts are key towards a brighter future. With the arrival of the first of seven magnets, part of the reactor system, the ITER team symbolizes a start of something exciting — a stern but important reminder that the journey is long, but that progress is possible.

Nuclear fusion is one of the most impressive energy sources we can tap into today, and with the beginning of ITER’s “delivery phase” the possibilities feel even more real — with the potential to revolutionize the way we power our homes and cities. What’s more, the delivery of the first part of their system comes at a crucial time, with the global climate crisis looming ever larger. It is an opportunity we must not miss — it is a hope for a clean energy future that we must collectively fight for.

Let’s join the conversation and support the ITER team as they continue on their mission to bring nuclear fusion energy to the world. With their hard work and dedication, we can have an opportunity to make the earth a greener and stable place to call our home.

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