Power engineering is an area of modern science and technology which is of vital importance for the future of our civilization. A decisive proof of the half a century of studies in this field will be the implementation of a project of an international thermonuclear research reactor. As experts point out, the total cost of these studies has already been in excess of 30 bin dollars - a fact that suggests the obvious questions of what will be the outcome and how soon can we expect the "happy end", if at all.
Nuclear scientists, sharing broad views on the philosophical problems of Mother Nature in general and human society in particular, have always realized that problems of this kind and magnitude can and should be resolved by our combined efforts, irrespective of the social, political, cultural, religious and other distinctions between countries and nations. As for ourselves, we take pride in the fact that as far back as in 1956 our distinguished compatriot Acad. Igor Kurchatov took the first historic step in this direction with his report at the British Nuclear Center in Harwell, tearing off the veil of secrecy from the Soviet thermonuclear studies and experiments and urging colleagues in various countries to pool their efforts in working on this challenging and truly global problem.
WHY THERMONUCLEAR POWER INDUSTRY
As experts point out, there is a wealth of statistics today demonstrating a clear connection between percapita incomes, living standards and people's longevity and the quantities and quality of their energy consumption. In our day and age the optimal kind of energy is electricity most of which (over 70 percent) is obtained by burning of organic fuel-concentrated solar energy accumulated by vegetation over the millennia. And it was back in 1900 that the genius of Russian science, Dmitry Mendeleev went on record as saying that: "Burning oil for heating is like heating by burning banknotes!" And he knew what he was talking about-we procure and turn into ashes this "black gold" with the efficiency factor of less than 35 percent and ignore the fact that we destroy essential raws for many industries and its resources are not unlimited.
How much longer can we expect to rely on fossil fuels? Back in 1972 the appropriate calculations were suggested by the Russian Nobel laureate, Acad. Nikolai Semyonov. In his view the explored resources of coal, oil and gas can run out in a matter of 50 to 60 years. And that was without taking into account the on-going population growth. This assessment sets the time limit for our scientists and engineers who are working on new sources of energy. One can recall at this point that the first atomic reactor, developed by Prof. Enrico Fermi in the United States, went into operation in 1942, ami the share of energy generated by atomic power stations around the world is only approaching 10 percent of the general output.
Dynamics of world production and consumption of energy resources.
Some would like to object at this point by saying: "But you do not take into account the winds, tides and inner heat of the Earth (geysers, etc.) and the Sun itself!" But, according to even the most optimistic assessments, all of the aforesaid sources taken together can provide less than 15 percent of our total energy requirements * .
Thus, all of the aforesaid facts lead us to nuclear power engineering. It is possible in two forms: controlled or explosive fission of heavy elements, and the second-a reaction of synthesis of more heavy atoms from the lighter ones-the thermonuclear reactions which take place within the bowels of the Sun and other stars. As for the fuel resources involved, units for fission and fusion or synthesis reactions (taking into account build-up reactors for obtaining nuclear "fuel") have ample resources thereof for 5,000 and 1,000,000 years respectively. Both of these time scales are hard to visualize, but the above figures do speak in favor of thermonuclear reactors. And one more thing - it cannot explode in principle because it is "damped down" all by itself at any departure from the prescribed operation mode. And if one also takes into account the fact that the potential biological menace of units of the second type is lower by 10 3 (pessimists)-10 6 (optimists) than in units of the first type, it becomes quite clear that the real solution of the energy problem is associated with using synthesis reaction.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN...
In June 1950, army sergeant Oleg Lavrentyev sent a letter to the then Soviet leadership suggesting launching a controlled thermonuclear reaction with the help of an electrostatic field. The suggestion was passed on for an assessment to Acad. Andrei Sakharov who studied the problem and underlined its importance. According to his admission it was that letter which made him think of magnetic thermoisolation of plasma. In 1951 he, together with his tutor Acad. Igor Tamm developed the theory of a magnetic thermonuclear reactor. This was published 7 years later in a four- volume collection called "Plasma Physics and Problems of Controlled Thermonuclear Reactions".
An additional impetus to the Soviet research in this field was given by a statement of President Juan Peron of Argentine made on March 25, 1951, in which he mentioned successful experiments with "controlled release of atomic energy at a super-high temperature of one million degrees without the use of uranium fuel" in the experiments of the German emigrephysicist Prof. Ronald Richter who worked in a specially established lab (on an island at Parana).
The official starting point of thermonuclear research in the Soviet Union was May 5, 1951, the day when Josef Stalin signed an appropriate decree.
The 1950s can be described as an attempt at an all-round assault on the "thermonuclear fortress". The first experiments were conducted with toroidal discharge chambers (in the shape of a lifebelt or ring-shaped roll) made of glass and later of quartz and porcelain. Finally they picked up on an all-metal chamber with a cut along its surface and holes for diagnostic ports. Coils upon this unit generate toroidal magnetic field-in the shape of the discharge chamber-and a poloidal field is produced by the current flowing through the plasma whose lines of force form a magnetic shell (cavity). This combination of fields produces a grid of spiral lines
* See: P. Bezrukikh, "Prospects of Renewable Energetics", Science in Russia, No. 4, 2003. - Ed.
which are "wound up" and can thus retail plasma ions and electrons. The current in the wall of the metal chamber flows in the direction opposite to that in the plasma and repels it. This is one of the basic properties of the system called TOKAMAK.
UNPATENTED RUSSIAN IDEA TURNS COMMON POSSESSION
The first unit of this kind was produced in 1954 and received its name from Prof. Igor Golovin, Dr. Sc. (Phys. & Math.), the deputy of Acad. Igor Kurchatov who was then Director of the Laboratory of Measuring Instruments of the USSR Academy of Sciences (later called the Institute of Atomic Energy which is now the Russian Scientific Center "Kurchatovsky Institute"). Once the lab was visited by a high official in preparation for a visit by the ''powers that be" who wanted to take a closer look at the new system. The official told Dr. Golovin to give an impressive name to his device-a task that took the scientist a whole night to complete. In the morning he proposed to his chief engineer Natan Yavlinsky to call the unit "tokam-ag"-toroidal magnetic chamber. But the combination "mag" smelled of some magic and the final choice was "tokamak".
Appointed by a government decision as head of the project on plasma physics and thermonuclear synthesis was Corresponding Member (full Member from 1953) of the USSR Academy of Sciences, Lev Artsimovich. And it was he who assumed the responsibility for the final choice in favor of tokamaks. As a sober analyst he realized that "problem-free" progress of research in this difficult field would take years of hard work and considerable expenses-problems which could not be brushed off even in a "wealthy" country. He pointed out that the road to success consisted "in focusing the research program on the key issues without wasting time on subjects which lost their importance and were pursued by inertia."
His decision was confirmed by an event which followed shortly after. 1960 saw the construction of a new big T-3 tokamak at the Institute of Atomic Energy by a team headed by Prof. N. Yavlinsky. It was designed and built at the Leningrad Scientific Research Institute of Electrophysical Equipment named after D. Yefremov (NIIEFA). Full-scale physical experiments were launched two years later and their results proved to be phenomenal. A report by L. Artsimovich at the 3rd International Conference on Plasma Physics and Controlled Thermonuclear Synthesis organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency in Novosibirsk in 1968 produced a sensation and even some disbelief. But in 1969 a British team carried out their own measurements on the new unit which confirmed the findings of the Russian researchers. From then on tokamaks were accepted by practically all thermonuclear labs in the world.
The experiments and theoretical conclusions indicated that further progress towards thermonuclear parameters will be determined by the dimensions of the units (plasma volume), vacuum parameters, accuracy of the magnetic configuration and additional plasma heating. In the United States the biggest stellator * C unit was urgently rebuilt into a tokamak and the construction of one more unit of the same scale-PLT- was started. In Russia work was started in 1967 on a new powerful T-10 tokamak and the scientists believed it
* Stellatcr-closed discharge chamber in which a system of current conductors and coils produces an intricate magnetic configuration for high-temperature plasma retention. -Ed.
would help them "see light at the end of the tunnel". The 1970s saw a peaceful competition of Soviet and American physicists for building their new units ahead of the rivals. And that was not just a matter of prestige, but of the importance of the results of these experiments: the reproduction of plasma parameters on different and independently built machines would be the best proof of the basic ideas involved. This could be followed by the development of real prototypes and systems of the future experimental-industrial thermonuclear reactor.
In the Soviet Union work on the T-10 tokamak involved scores of R&D centers, including the aforesaid NIIEFA and the ELEKTROSILA Plant in Leningrad. The launching ceremony of T-10 was held on June 30, 1975-a day ahead of the date mentioned in the government decision and several months before the launch of the American PLT. Shortly after the unit reached the design parameters of plasma which were fully in keeping with the prognostications of physicists and engineers*.
START OF INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION ON FUSION-TYPE REACTORS
After his sensational triumph in Novosibirsk, Acad. L. Artsimovich was showered with invitations from foreign research centers. And while reporting on our achievements, he also called for an international division of research efforts in this field. Could countries engaged in this research pool their efforts within a common coordinated program on the conditions of unrestrained exchange of information? The scientist suggested setting up an appropriate international agency under the auspices of the IAEA. The initiative was supported by the IAEA and 1971 saw the establishment of the International Council for Thermonuclear Research. Deserving of special mention is an active role in the "propaganda" of advantages and, later, in promoting international cooperation in this area of the American physicist Prof. David Rose.
In the meantime preparations began in the Soviet Union of a scientific and technical basis for the justification of the project. Established at the Scientific-and-Technical Council of the Ministry of Medium Engineering (now RF Ministry of Atomic Energetics) was a section on engineering aspects of thermonuclear research. Set up at the USSR Academy of Sciences and the State Committee for Uses of Atomic Energy was a Coordinating Council for studies and development of structural materials. Started at the All-Union Scientific-Research Institute of Inorganic Materials were studies on what were called tritium problems of thermonuclear reactors and on the production of new superconducting materials for tokamak magnetic system. The responsibility for the "electrophysics" of the reactor was assumed by the Scientific- Research Institute of Electrophysical Equipment.
In 1977, the Director of the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy, Acad. Alexandras suggested that the leadership of the USSR launch an initiative for international cooperation in the work on a thermonuclear reactor. This decision was adopted on May 5, 1978, and later that month Soviet representatives made an appropriate statement at a session of the International Council for Thermonuclear Research. This marked the start of international cooperation in the development of what was called the INTOR unit (international tokamak-reactor). But due to a number of reasons it all ended not in the preparation of a real project, but with suggestions of individual conceptual systems and an analysis of international achievements in high-temperature plasma physics.
An outside layman-observer could get the impression that scientists engaged on the project were, in the words of Acad. L. Artsimovich, "satisfying their own curiosity at government expense". But their efforts did bring tangible fruits and INTOR became the "God-father" of the international reactor of the next generation-ITER. The studies of the international team and the simultaneous launchings of new tokamaks demonstrated that these were the only such units which caused no basic objections on the way to a fusion reactor, and INTOR was the best studied one in this category. And it
* See: V. Glukhikh et al., "On the Verge of the Thermonuclear Era", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2003. - Ed. .
also became clear that physicists stepped over the "critical mass" of experimental and theoretical data so that the future fate of the new reactor will have to be decided by "His Majesty the Experiment". And the INTOR publications on the subject will remain for a long time to come of importance for specialists working on the thermonuclear problem.
Parallel with INTOR national tokamak projects were being developed in the United States and Japan. In case of problems with the international reactor, these were to fulfil the established objectives and in case of its successful implementation they were to promote the development of national technologies of controlled thermonuclear synthesis on the basis of common experience. As for our own country, it followed a similar strategy. Experts of the Institute of Atomic Energy prepared a program of development of an experimental power thermonuclear reactor-tokamak OTR.
But in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 there was a change-and not for the better - in the attitude of the Soviet leadership, the public and a greater proportion of scientific and technical specialists to the atomic power industry and it was decided to abandon a national project in favor of an international one. A new stage of cooperation in this area began, just as before, at our initiative, and in the spring of 1987 there was the first meeting on this subject of representatives of the United States, the Soviet Union, Japan and the European Union. The name ITER- international thermonuclear experimental reactor-was our initiative which was actively supported by the Japanese and the Europeans.
As was decided right from the start the central objective of ITER was to demonstrate the scientific and technological potential of the peaceful uses of thermonuclear energy. This called for implementing controlled ignition and prolonged (finally permanent) combustion of deuterium-tritium plasma combined with stable operation of all the units and systems within a single whole at high temperatures and neutron loads.
After the completion of the first stage of the work-conceptual design-representatives of the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC), the USA, Japan and Russia decided to maintain their cooperation at the stage of technical projecting. The parties also decided to formulate requirements for the ITER building site, carry out security assessments of the impact on the environment, prepare a program of timetable of putting the reactor into operation and its subsequent deactivation, etc.
The technical project was finished and submitted to a critical assessment by 1998. At their regular session in 1998 experts suggested that the member countries prolong their cooperation agreement for three years for "intertying" the project to the building site and resolving other associated problems. In the meantime US representatives, acting on instructions of the Congress, voiced their considerations on altering the objectives of the project with the view of reducing its costs. A special working group was set up by the ITER Council with the task of preparing the appropriate proposals, but the Americans suddenly left the Council on January 1, 1999. The calculations for reducing the costs (by about 50 percent) for the unit construction and, consequently, of its parameters were carried out. The designers did their best to preserve the hope for the possibility of plasma self-ignition and the realization of the outlined plans. The "modernized" project was discussed not only by the countries-participants, but also by a team of independent experts who accepted it as ready for implementation.
In July 1999 there was a meeting in Grenoble of the directors of national thermonuclear programs which can practically be regarded as an ITER Council session. And there was an unofficial discussion on what remained to be done with the prolongation of the international reactor agreement. None of the participants had any concrete proposals on that matter and all looked with expectation on Acad. Ye. Velikhov, President of the "Kurchatov Institute" Center. And this time again Russia played the role of a gluon which prevented the disintegration of the ITER quark from falling apart. Acad. Velikhov, who presided over the session, asked the participants what they thought about a proposal of the Russian Minister of Atomic Energetics to convene an informal meeting in Moscow in preparation for official talks? This discharged the tension and the participants agreed on the acceptable dates and on sending invitations on behalf of the Minister of Atomic Energetics, Yevgeny Adamov.
The first suggestion about the site came from the Canadians. At an ITER symposium in Moscow (June 2001) the Canadian Ambassador, speaking on his government's behalf, mentioned a plot of land on the northern bank of Ontario to the east of Toronto. This paved the way for the next stage of talks on cooperation...
The next official round of talks took place in Moscow in February 2003. Its significant feature consisted in the fact that members of the "team" were joined by representatives of the United States and China. The Chinese side suggested three stages of joining the international cooperation: assessment of the work done at the stage of technical projecting, participation in all the intermediate stages and a maximum possible contribution to the successful implementation of these plans. As for the Americans, their main task was to ensure an effective management of the implementation of the megaproject of unique complexity during the construction of the unit. And the candidates for the role of the "hostess" apart from Canada include France, Japan and Spain.
The international team continues its work today. And looking back, we are proud to say that it was our country which had initiated the establishment of ITER and provided the basic contribution at the initial stage of the work.
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