Near the banks of the Sabarmati, in the green city of Gandhinagar, a team of 122 scientists and engineers from across India is working silently on building some crucial nuclear components. These are meant to power the world’s largest nuclear reactor, coming up in the Cadarache province of southern France.
At a time when an impasse over the Indo-US nuclear deal has been broken (in January) and both countries are looking forward to steering their ‘123 agreement’, and when the world is talking about nuclear non-proliferation, India is working diligently to build the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) by 2019.
A mega international nuclear fusion research & engineering project, ITER is currently building the world’s largest experimental tokamak nuclear fusion reactor. A tokamak is a device that uses a magnetic field to confine plasma (fourth state of matter) in the shape of a torus.
The ITER project aims to make the long-awaited transition from experimental studies of plasma physics to full-scale electricity-producing fusion power plants. It is seen as a method for electricity production from fusion energy — one for the future. The most vital aim is to produce at least 10 times more thermal energy than that required to operate it. This energy could be converted into electricity in future power-producing reactors. Scientists have dreamt of accomplishing this feat for half a century, but it wasn’t until 2006 that some progress was made with the formation of ITER.
The ITER fusion reactor has been designed to produce 500 Mw of output power, with an input of just 50 Mw to operate. Production of more energy from the fusion process than that required to initiate the machine — ITER’s main aim is unprecedented for fusion reactors.
India is providing a 10th of the components for the massive nuclear complex being set up at Cadarache. New Delhi is contributing what on completion in 2021 will be the world’s largest refrigerator. The cryostat acts like a thermos flask but operates at some of the lowest temperatures seen in the universe at minus 269 degrees celsius. This is used for keeping the special super conducting magnets at the low temperature at which they need to operate. The entire fusion system will collapse if it can’t be kept cold. India is also expected to contribute about Rs 9,000 core over the next decade to the project, paying a little under 10 per cent of the total cost.
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