Sunset Over Lindisfarne
(Courtesy of Stella Harrison)
(Courtesy of UKAEA)
E = mc2 is perhaps the most famous equation proposed by arguably the most famous scientist – Albert Einstein. The destruction of a small amount of mass m gives rise to a huge amount of energy E because c, the speed of light is very large and even larger when you square it. This is what goes on in the sun. For over 50 years scientists have been working on the development of a controlled process which mimics the power of the sun on earth. Starting with ZETA (Zero Energy Thermonuclear Assembly or Apparatus) in the 1950’s through to the current JET (Joint European Torus) to the planned ITER project (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), the goal has been to get more energy out than you put in.
The ITER Project will use several thousand tonnes of stainless steel mostly of the 316LN (1.4429) grade. This will form the doughnut-shaped vessel where a plasma of the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium are reacted at a temperature of 150 million °C. This is hotter than the sun’s core which is a mere 15 million °C. If successful, the nuclear fusion reaction will produce 10 times more heat than was put in. In a commercial reactor, this heat would be used to produce electricity in the usual way by heating water to produce steam which drives the generator.
If all goes according to plan, the first electricity produced for the grid could be in around 2040.