Earlier this month, the details were released of the Central Solenoid, a magnet rumored to be so strong it can lift an aircraft carrier nearly 2 meters off the ground. The Solenoid was originally developed in California by General Atomics and will essentially mimic the sun's power to generate energy.
The magnet was designed for ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, and is reported to be nearly 60-feet tall and weighing in at 1,000-tons. ITER is a joint venture between 35 nations -including the US - who have come together to build what is known as one of the most ambitious energy projects ever to exist.
The campaign was first launched in 1985 and has included thousands of scientists and engineers working endlessly to build a tokamak, a magnetic fusion device designed after the sun. If successful, this project will be the first to produce 500MW of fusion power and will significantly aid in the global shift toward a sustainable future.
An expert in the field from Columbia University, Dr. Michael Mauel, stated that the "Delivery of the first ITER Central Solenoid module is an exciting milestone for the demonstration of fusion energy and also a terrific achievement of U.S. capacity to build very large, high-field, high-energy superconducting magnets."
Mimicking the Sun
The magnet is currently on its way to France where it will be further refined to create a reactor for nuclear fusion. Nuclear fusion occurs naturally in space between the sun and other stars. The process is rather simple. When two light nuclei of greater mass merge to create a single nucleus of lesser mass, the process releases energy due to the mass discrepancy. This correlates with Albert Einstein’s equation, E=mc2, where energy and mass can be converted into each other. This reactor will be the first machine to be self-sustaining in its ability to harness that extra energy and convert it to usable energy.
Nuclear energy is often misunderstood by the general public who are apprehensive due to the association with the nuclear bomb and Chernobyl. Though understandable, the energy source has undergone significant studying and trials to assure its efficiency and safety. The International Atomic Energy Agency has even referred to nuclear power plants as among the safest facilities in the world.
That said, some individuals have posed the question around the safety of this experiment in particular. ITER claims that its device is safe and can turn off immediately should any run-away reaction occur. Further, the continued research and excitement from scientists around the globe as we inch closer and closer to this reality will aid in the continuation of its safety measures. National Geographic even stated in 2019 that nuclear fusion is the “holy grail for the future of nuclear power.”
How This Experiment Can Change the World
The entire experiment is expected to be near completion around 2035, leaving plenty of time for more refinement and execution of the project. Upon use, the technology is said to generate energy without emitting any greenhouse gasses thanks to its state-of-the-art technology and notoriously strong magnet.
Currently, the United States gains 79% of its energy from fossil fuels. That means that 21% comes from other sources such as hydro, solar, wind, biomass, and nuclear. With a continued focus on creating sustainable alternatives to meet the growing demand for sustainable goods and services, we can expect these numbers to shift in the future.
One area of focus that can aid in the shift toward a more sustainable future is to educate the general public on all aspects of energy and the environment. If more individuals were aware of all of the significant downsides of fossil fuels and the safety of nuclear energy, we would see an even greater push for this project and perhaps a more widespread approval of other alternative energy projects in the future.
Finally, if this venture were to be executed as planned, the potential outcome could be astronomical. Public opinion would most likely shift to be more positive surrounding nuclear energy, 35 nations around the globe would have access to this design, and the growing threat of global warming would stagnate significantly.