ITER fusion reactor gets world’s most powerful magnet

Cadarache: Arriving on Thursday at the ITER worksite in southern France is the first module of the world’s largest and powerful magnet, the Central Solenoid. It will become the central component of ITER, a machine that replicates the sun’s fusion power.

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ITER is being built in southern France by 35 partner countries: The European Union (plus the UK and Switzerland), China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the US.

The Central Solenoid, a first-of-kind magnet, is being built by General Atomics, San Diego, California and is part of the US support for ITER, which is delivered mainly in the form of advanced components. This arrangement drives companies like General Atomics (GA) and others to expand their expertise for fusion technologies.

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The Central Solenoid will play a critical role in ITER’s mission to establish fusion energy as a carbon-free, safe, economic and inexhaustible source of electricity.

“ITER is the most complex scientific collaboration in history,” explains Bernard Bigot, Director-General of the ITER Organisation. “Very special first-of-a-kind components are being manufactured in Europe, Asia and North America over a nearly 10-year period by leading companies such as General Atomics.”

Despite the challenges of Covid-19, ITER is now 75 per cent completed. The Central Solenoid and many other first-of-a-kind components have been arriving in France from three continents.

After arriving recently at the Marseille harbour, the 166-ton magnet module, one of six that will comprise the Central Solenoid, was placed on a special remote-controlled transport vehicle, to be driven 104 km (65 miles) to ITER on a reinforced roadway that can accommodate heavy loads.

Fully assembled, the Central Solenoid, the largest of ITER’s magnets, will be 18 meters (59 feet) tall and 4.25 meters (14 feet) wide, and will weigh a thousand tons.

It will induce a powerful current in the ITER cloud-like plasma, helping to shape and control the fusion reaction during long pulses. It is sometimes called the “beating heart” of the ITER machine.

How powerful is the Central Solenoid? Its magnetic force is strong enough to lift an aircraft carrier two meters (six feet) into the air. At its core, it will reach a magnetic field strength of 13 Tesla, about 2,80,000 times stronger than the earth’s magnetic field. The support structures for the Central Solenoid will have to withstand forces equal to twice the thrust of a space shuttle lift-off.

“The Central Solenoid project ranks among the largest, most complex and demanding magnet programs ever undertaken,” says John Smith, GA’s Director of Engineering and Projects.

“I speak for the entire team when I say this is the most important and significant project of our careers. We have all felt the responsibility of working on a job that has the potential to change the world. This is a significant achievement for the GA team and US ITER.”

The Central Solenoid modules are being manufactured at GA’s Magnet Technologies Center in Poway, California, near San Diego, under the direction of the US ITER project, managed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

Five additional Central Solenoid modules, plus one spare, are at various stages of fabrication. The second module is currently in transit to France.

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