A fieldtrip to ITER, a work-in-progress that will test fusion’s feasibility

Foreground buildings: Contractors Canteen, Changing Rooms, Showers, etc. || Green, Yellow, and Red buildings: Contractors’ Offices || White Building: Canteen and Infirmary for Contractors || Tall building: Assembly Hall || To the right of the Assembly Hall and behind the other buildings: Cryostat Assembly Site (credit: Dave Loschiavo)

ST. PAUL-lez DURANCE, France—Rolling hills and oak woodlands dominate rural Southern France. However, about 35km north of Aix-en-Provence, nature has given way to a team of 1,000 construction workers who are laboring around the clock to build the largest physics experiment that’s never been discussed by Sheldon, Leonard, Raj, and Howard.

Known as ITER, this experimental Tokamak fusion reactor is intended to be the last necessary step to prove the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion as a commercial energy source. It is a collaborative effort of China, the European Union (through Euratom), India, Japan, Korea, Russia, Switzerland (also through Euratom), and the United States. In total, it will include 35 countries.

The scale of this project, in so many dimensions, is nothing short of awe inspiring and humbling. Physically, the main buildings used to assemble and house the Tokamak reactor stand 60m (~200ft) tall and sit in a leveled area of 40 hectares (~100 acres). The entire site, adding the open space and office buildings, measures 180 hectares. Logistically, as a construction project, the ITER team is tracking over 200,000 actions necessary to bring the effort to fruition.

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