Building a new Sun: The world's largest science experiment continues to take shape

We take a look at the progress being made at the world's largest nuclear facility.

From a small hill above Vinon-sur-Verdon in southern France, you can see two suns. Right before sunset, the effect is even more startling. One of the two suns has been blazing for the past 4.5 billion years and is slowly setting. The other is being built by thousands of human hands, and is very slowly rising. As the Sun sets, its rays cast a magical glow over a huge construction site, where the world's biggest fusion reactor is being built.

The ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) project, a joint venture by 35 countries, is one of the world's most important scientific projects. The aim of the project is to prove nuclear fusion – a process constantly taking place inside our Sun and other stars – can be utilised on Earth, to produce electric energy on an industrial scale.ITER hopes it will be the first fusion device to sustain fusion power over a long period of time.If successful, it could well signal a direction away from using fossil fuels for good.

Since 1973, global energy usage has doubled. By the end of this century it might actually triple. 70 per cent of humankind's carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere are created through our energy consumption. 80 per cent of all the energy we consume is still derived from fossil fuels. Therefore, replacing these harmful emissions will help hugely with reducing pollution worldwide, and help slow climate change.

The EU has officially pledged to start producing more than half of electric energy from renewable sources by 2030. By 2050, the hope is that the EU will be a fully carbon-neutral society. To achieve this, it is important to find alternative sources of energy, and many believe that nuclear fusion could be the answer to the world's long-term energy needs.

But before that happens, there is still a long way to go. ITER is not expected to be conducting plasma experiments until 2025, with the facilities not being fully complete and operational until 2035.

We take a look at how this state-of-the-art facility is taking shape.

Text by Bostjan Videmsek

The world's biggest magnets

Looking into the tokamak pit

The view from inside

Vacuum cleaner

Huge tool box

Another view of the tokamak pit

Piece by piece

More images from Science Focus:

Keeping cool

House assembly

Powering up #1

Powering up #2

Slow and steady wins the race

The assembly hall

Vacuum vessel part 1

A shining performance

Danger! High voltage

Giant jigsaw

Down in the pit

Looking at the next stages

Bottom-up assembly

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