SEOUL, July 28 (Yonhap) -- The assembly of the world's largest nuclear fusion reactor, which has the potential to solve mankind's energy needs, began in earnest in France on Tuesday, with South Korea playing a key role in the megaproject, the science ministry said.
The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) consortium formally announced in Cadarache, France, that it has started to put together the experimental unit that will help substantiate the feasibility of fusion power generation.
South Korea officially joined the next-generation nuclear fusion reactor consortium in late 2006 that is also comprised of the European Union, the United States, Russia, China, Japan and India.
The country has supplied the massive tool, referred to as "giant," that is tasked with assembling the most critical vacuum vessel sector of the reactor, according to the ministry.
"With the giant subassembly tool weighing 900 tons and standing 23 meters tall in place, ITER has started making the reactor with the goal of conducting a 'first plasma' test in December 2025," the ministry and the National Fusion Research Institute (NFRI) said.
NFRI chief Yoo Suk-jae said that at the assembly phase, South Korea is responsible for over 70 percent of the work, far exceeding its total share in the ITER project of 9 percent.
Besides the subassembly tool, the country is responsible for supplying the thermal shield, blanket modules for the vacuum chamber and the toroidal field coil that keeps the plasma field in place.
ITER uses deuterium and tritium as fuel, which is injected into a huge vacuum chamber and able to contain a super-hot plasma field.
The plasma field, reaching temperatures of 150 million degrees Celsius, triggers the energy-generating fusion reaction creating helium, neutron particles and heat.
If this process can be sustained, it can theoretically create an artificial sun on Earth that can provide mankind with a limitless supply of power.
Deuterium and tritium can be found in the ocean and in fresh water, with pineapple-size deuterium-tritium fuel having the same amount of energy as 10,000 tons of coal.
The ITER plant is designed for 500 megawatt output, which if connected to a power grid translates into 200 MW of electricity, enough to provide power to 200,000 households.
A scaled-up commercial version could generate 2,000 MW of electricity that can be used by 2 million households.
Proponents of ITER said the cost of building and operating a commercial nuclear fusion reactor will be similar to that of a conventional fission nuclear power unit, but it will be carbon-free and without the added expenses of waste disposal or fear of catastrophic radiation-related accidents.
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