ITER, the world’s largest fusion experiment, appoints a new boss

Pietro Barabaschi will lead the ITER project, the largest nuclear fusion experiment in the world, starting next October. Its construction had been delayed due to the pandemic. However, it must be completed between 2025 and 2030. The project will reach full power by 2040.

Dr. Eisuke Tada had served as Acting Director General of the ITER project since the death last May of Bernard Bigot, who had headed the organization since 2015. He will be soon to be replaced by Pietro Barabaschi, currently Acting Director of Fusion for Energy, the organization responsible for Europe’s contribution to ITER.

Pietro Barabaschi, 56, has always worked in the field of fusion, mainly in the development and construction of dedicated infrastructures. Previously, the researcher also worked on the initial design of ITER at the Munich site and on the Joint European Torus (JET) fusion project, the large European tomato plantation located in Culham, UK.

In a statement, the new head of ITER promised to do everything possible to improve the integration of the central organization of the project with the agencies that provide the contribution of each member.

Harness the energy of the stars

Based in the south of France, ITER aims to demonstrate the feasibility of the controlled process of nuclear fusion, the very one that powers the stars, thus promising clean and almost unlimited energy. Thirty-five countries are currently cooperating in this great project.

To dominate the fusionEngineers are developing reactors called tokamaks in which deuterium and tritium are heated to over a hundred million degrees centigrade until a plasma cloud forms. This reaction must then be maintained long enough for the nuclei of the light atoms to fuse to form heavier nuclei, releasing large amounts of energy. Eventually, this energy could be used to generate electricity.

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The construction site of the world’s most powerful nuclear fusion reactor, ITER, in the south of France. Credits: Vinci

ITER aims to become the first device to produce “net energy” and release more power in a fusion attempt than was used to heat the hydrogen plasma.

Although ITER is currently scheduled to begin operations in 2025, this date is likely to be pushed back in the near future to accommodate delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Once mature, it will produce approximately 500 megawatts of power thermal, enough to feed 200,000 households. As a reminder, this is just an experimental project. ITER alone will lay the groundwork for future fusion reactors capable of powering several million homes.

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