CNRS Research Director and Head of the "Magnetic Fusion Plasmas" team at the Plasma Physics Laboratory of École Polytechnique (IP Paris)
Nuclear fusion is a potential energy source that does not produce greenhouse gases, nor long-lived fissile or highly radioactive elements.
The ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) project is an experimental nuclear fusion reactor born from a long-term international collaboration between 34 countries, but the first plasmas will not be obtained before 2027.
The device used, known as a tokamak, must maintain relatively high densities of light ions at enormous temperatures (~100 million °C) for a sufficiently long time using intense magnetic fields.
ITER remains essential for the community because it is the only place where it will be possible to test all the problems linked to fusion energy production in an integrated way.
The entire community is working to progress the scientific and technical issues that could make fusion energy available in the second half of the century.
An increasing number of these advances involve start-ups and private initiatives that undoubtedly signal the growing maturity of the field.
Deputy Director of the Laboratory for the Use of Intense Lasers (LULI*) at École Polytechnique (IP Paris)
For 50 years, researchers have been trying to mimic the process of fusion, which occurs in stars, to generate energy.
Nuclear fusion happens when two light nuclei, such as hydrogen and its isotopes, fuse to produce a larger, heavier nucleus which releases energy.
The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in the US recently succeeded in creating a “burning plasma” state at the National Ignition Facility (NIF).
Researchers used a set of powerful lasers focused tightly on a millimetre-sized fuel capsule containing tiny pellets of hydrogen isotopes – deuterium and tritium – suspended inside a cylindrical X-ray “furnace” called a hohlraum.
This is the first time a system has been developed in which fusion itself provides most of the heat – a key step towards achieving even higher levels of performance.
Doctor in Nuclear Physics and Columnist at Polytechnique Insights
Nuclear fusion is a so-called “decarbonised” energy, which consists of fusing two hydrogen isotopes to produce helium. Since the process is not combustion, there are no CO2 emissions from the reaction.
The tokamak is a technology that allows plasma to be confined by magnetic fields where nuclear fusion can take place.
The ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) project, currently under construction in Cadarache (France), is part of the 2nd generation of tokamak prototypes.
Numerous start-ups are moving into the sector. Investment in this type of energy is no longer limited to the public, and the technical advances are looking promising for the future.
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