Nuclear Fusion May Only Be Possible With the Biggest Damn Magnets of All Time
For years, scientists have been trying to build a nuclear fusion reactor capable of generating almost limitless clean energy.
The experimental ITER fusion reactor, which is currently under construction in France, might be our best shot yet at finally developing a working reactor — as long as engineers can figure out a good way to build all the parts.
These types of reactors hold super-hot plasma (heated to around 150 million degrees) inside a ring-shaped casing. Huge magnets generate powerful magnetic fields that keep the red-hot plasma contained in the ring and keep it from touching the walls of the reactor itself. When the reactor is finished, it will have the largest superconducting magnet system ever built.
These magnets are huge and really hard to build. Each one is 45 feet long, 35 feet wide and weighs around 250,000 pounds, or about the same as a Boeing 747 plane, according to Engineering & Technology. And the reactor needs 18 of these giant things.
Each magnet is made by winding superconducting coils around pipes that will later be flooded with liquid helium to chill them down to just a few degrees Celsius. About 200 kilometers of superconducting coils have already been produced for the 18 magnets. It took 26 companies and 600 workers to build the first one.
Hopefully the other 17 get built on time so scientists can start experimenting with this potentially revolutionary energy generator.