The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is the largest nuclear fusion experiment in the world. The megaproject is a collaborative effort funded and run by seven members: the European Union, China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, with the United Kingdom and Switzerland participating through The European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), a massive lineup of members which altogether represents 35 countries, half the citizens in the world, and a whopping 85% of global GDP. The project, which involves a massive-scale tokamak that began construction last year, spans 42 hectares in Saint Paul-lez-Durance, southern France–approximately the size of 60 soccer fields. This gargantuan megaproject has been considered as one of humanity’s best shots at achieving commercializable nuclear fusion. While nuclear fusion has been achieved before, it has always consumed considerably more energy than it produces. Fusing atoms, the process that fuels our sun, is many times more powerful than splitting atoms–the process currently used in nuclear power production. What’s more, nuclear fusion can be achieved without emitting any greenhouse gases or using any radioactive nuclear fuel, a process which creates hazardous waste that can threaten human health for millennia–not to mention put a huge financial strain on the taxpayers who are funding its maintenance. For these reasons, nuclear fusion has been considered as the holy grail of clean energy. And, much like the holy grail itself, commercial nuclear fusion has proven to be as unattainable as it is tantalizing. Projects like ITER have poured tens of billions of dollars into the potentially world-altering technology, but so far creating net energy has proven elusive–until now.
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