America Joins Development of Second Largest Investment Project

The USA rejoins the development of the nuclear project after it pulled out in 1998

The advisory committee that is attached to the Ministry for Energy of the USA recommended the government to return to the membership in the international committee for the construction of an experimental thermonuclear reactor. This is the second biggest scientific and technical investment project of our times, after the international space station.

It is not ruled out that it is the most important project, since it is meant to solve the coming energy crisis. Even Greenpeace agrees with it. The fate of the project became rather complicated when the USA pulled out from it four years ago. However, hope has returned for fans of thermonuclear energy.

Nuclear fusion is the power of the Sun and the stars. Hydrogen nucleus collide and produce colossal energy. Hydrogen is the most widely spread substance in the Universe. The Earth seems to be insatiable, but only one-billionth of the solar power is enough for our planet. It is basically the production of energy from water. One glass of water contains the energy equal to a barrel of petrol. The thermonuclear field is an inexhaustible and ecologically pure source of energy.

The great scientist Enrico Fermi made a first step for the development of a thermonuclear reactor in 1942. In the 1950s, Andrey Sakharov and Igor Tamm suggested a fundamentally new idea in the USSR, which later resulted in the development of the legendary TOKAMAKs (abbreviated from the Russian phrase for Toroidal Chamber with Magnetic Coil). In 1956, scientist Igor Kurchatov announced the beginning of thermonuclear research in the USSR. The goal was to learn how to control a nuclear reaction and create an inexhaustible source of energy for humanity.

The same year, scientists Lev Artsimovich, Igor Golovin, and Natan Yavlinsky created the first TOKAMAK. For this to work, scientists must heat plasma to 100 million degrees. In 1962, they heated a plasma cord to one million degrees. The temperature increased to ten million degrees in 1971. However, it became known that the issue of a controlled nuclear reaction is very complicated. No country can cope with that problem alone.

Unfortunately, Russia had to sell its TOKAMAK 7 to China. This was the first successful superconductive reactor. Yet, there are three TOKAMAKs operating in Russia. Even politicians realize the advantages of the use of TOKAMAKs. There have been about 300 of them built in the world. Yet, only 30 of them work now. About 30 billion dollars have been spent on research. One half of this sum is paid for by the USA.

Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan agreed upon the expediency of joint work in the field of nuclear energy. An agreement was achieved in November of 1986 at the summit in Geneva. The project incorporated the USA, Russia, Japan, and Euratom, one of the EU’s founders. In 1998, the USA pulled out of the agreement and started working on its own reactor, FIRE. It was claimed that the USA did not believe in the seriousness of Japan and Europes’ intentions. Russian experts believed that America did so on account of their choice for cheaper oil.

The USA’s decision undermined the project and it had to be rewritten. The spending was cut from eight billion dollars to 3.6 billion. The power of the device dropped from 1.5 gigawatts to 500 megawatt. Yet, the project did not die. The delay allowed scientists to increase the scientific and technical levels. Many parts of the device have been completed already. The vacuum chamber and robots are ready in Japan. Russia has created device that is capable of absorbing a superconductive cord. The reactor has been virtually completed.

America decided to return to the project. The scientific committee of the US Congress repeatedly stated that the United States will only support international projects that it has control over. However, the program stipulates equal participation. The USA’s decision might be explained with the fact that oil is not cheap these days. In addition, the FIRE project did not turn out to be as perspective as the thermonuclear program. Moreover, the latter is to prove an opportunity to produce energy on the base of a thermonuclear reaction, whereas FIRE is aimed at only for the beginning of a nuclear reaction. The negotiations pertaining to America’s return are to be completed in 2004. The US government has not announced its final decision on the matter yet. However, some senior American officials say that they treat the idea positively.

Until recently, it was believed that the construction of a thermonuclear reactor would be completed by the year 2010. However, the site of its construction has not been determined yet. Canada and Japan are rather active in this respect. Russia has suggested its own sites as well, in the St. Petersburg region. However, Russia can not guarantee stable funding.

At any rate, it is not known if America’s return is going to either accelerate or retard the most important scientific and technical project of our time.

&to=' target=_blank>Izvestia Translated by Dmitry Sudakov

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