Building A Fusion Sun On Earth: Go Inside ITER, The Most Expensive Science Experiment Of All Time

by • June 28, 2013 • History, Physics, Politics, ScienceComments (0)3496

Imagine being able to harness the power of the Sun by making a miniature one here on Earth?  It’s called fusion power, and it is the holy grail of clean energy.  For the past 60 years many machines have been built that have all tried and failed miserably at turning this dream into a reality (although JET™ did come somewhat close).  But there is a new machine being built right now in the south of France which some believe could pull it off.  It’s called the ITER™ (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, pronounced “eater”), and not only is it enormous — it’s also enormously expensive.  Popular Science explains:

“ITER is not a power station, it won’t be connected to the grid and won’t even generate any electricity, but its designers are aiming to go far beyond break-even and spark enough fusion reactions to produce 10 times as much heat as that pumped in to make it work.  To get there requires a reactor of epic proportions.  The building containing the reactor will be 60m tall and extend 13m underground — altogether taller than the Arc de Triomphe.  The reactor inside will weigh 23,000 tonnes — continuing the Parisian theme, that’s more than three Eiffel Towers.  At the time of writing, workers at the ITER site in Cadarache, southern France, are laying foundations, erecting buildings, installing cables and generally preparing the ground.  In factories around the world the various components that will make up the reactor are being built, ready to be shipped to France and assembled on site.  The scale and the quantities are prodigious.  In six different ITER member countries factories are churning out niobium-tin superconducting wires for the reactor’s magnets.  When finished, they will have made 80,000km of wire, enough to wrap around the equator twice.  The giant D-shaped coils of wire that are the electromagnets used to contain the plasma are each 14m tall and weigh 360 tonnes, as much as a fully laden jumbo jet.  ITER needs 18 of these magnets.  Perhaps the most mindboggling statistic about ITER, and one of the reasons it is being built by an international collaboration, is its cost: somewhere between €13 billion and €16 billion ($17 – $21 billion US).  That makes it the most expensive science experiment ever built–twice as expensive as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.”

You can read the full story by visiting  To learn much more about the epic scientific project be sure to visit ITER’s home page at, as well as the European agency responsible for the project at

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ITER1ITER2Source: Popular Science

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