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Magnet milestones move distant nuclear fusion dream closer

Two continents shared similar milestones in their efforts to find an energy source to fight climate change. They each made very impressive magnets.

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Magnet milestones move distant nuclear fusion dream closer

The first piece of a powerful magnet that can lift an aircraft carrier was delivered to scientists from the International Thermonuclear Experiment Reactor in southern France on Thursday.

The magnet, which is nearly 60 feet tall (almost 20 meters) and 14 feet in diameter (more than 4 meters) when fully assembled, is an essential component of the 35-nation effort to master nuclear Fusion.

Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a private firm announced this week that they too have reached a major milestone in their quest to create a'sun for earth'.

Proponents of Fusion claim that it is a cleaner and more reliable source of energy than existing fission reactors which can produce radioactive waste and sometimes deadly meltdowns. Scientists and engineers have been trying to solve the problem for almost a century, if they can harness it.

Fusion is not a method of splitting atoms. It mimics the process that happens naturally in stars to meld hydrogen atoms together and create a helium-atom.

Fusion requires unimaginable heat and pressure. You can achieve fusion by turning hydrogen into an electrically charged gas or plasma. This is controlled in a vacuum chamber that looks like a donut.

This is possible thanks to powerful superconducting magnets, such as the "central solenoid" that General Atomics started shipping from San Diego to France in the summer.

Scientists claim that ITER is now 75% completed and that they plan to start the reactor in early 2026.

Laban Coblentz, spokesperson for ITER, stated that each completion of a major component of first-of-a kind -- such as the central solenoid’s first module -- increases ITER's confidence that we can complete complex engineering of the entire machine.

The ultimate goal of fusion technology is to produce ten-times more energy than it takes to heat the plasma by 2035.

The Massachusetts team is one of the hopefuls to beat them to the prize. It claimed it created a magnetic field twice as strong as ITER's using a magnet that was 40 times smaller.

Scientists from MIT and Commonwealth Fusion Systems suggested that they might have a device for everyday use by the 2030s.

Maria Zuber, MIT Vice President Maria Zuber and a well-known physicist said that "this was designed to become a commercial product." "This was not intended to be a science experiment."

Although ITER was not intended to generate electricity, it could serve as a blueprint for other more advanced reactors, if it succeeds.

The project's supporters argue that, even if the project fails, it will teach countries technical skills that can be applied in other areas, such as particle physics and designing advanced materials that can withstand the heat of sunlight.

All countries involved in the project, including the United States of America, Russia, China and Japan, as well as many other European nations, share in the $20billion cost. They also benefit from the scientific findings and intellectual property.

The central solenoid is one of 12 major U.S. contributions ITER. Each of these is constructed by American companies and funds allotted by Congress go towards U.S. jobs.

John Smith, General Atomics' director of engineering and project management, said that the safe delivery of the first module to the ITER facility was a great achievement. "Every part of the manufacturing process had been designed from scratch," he added.

The company spent many years developing new technologies and methods for moving the magnet parts across their facility, and around the world. They also moved coils that weighed 250,000 pounds.

Smith stated that the engineering knowledge gained during this period will be valuable for future projects on this scale.

He stated that ITER's goal is to demonstrate that fusion can be economically viable. However, they are already planning for the future. "That's the key to commercializing fusion, and we now know what has to happen."

The best way to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to bet on nuclear energy, first fission, then fusion, according Frederick Bordry, who was responsible for the design and construction a fiendishly complicated scientific machine called the Large Hadron Collider (CERN).

He said, "When we talk about the cost ITER it's peanuts compared to the impact of climate changes." "We will need the money to do it."

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