A physicist, specialist in nuclear fusion, Alain Bécoulet is head of the Institut de Recherche sur la Fusion Magnétique (IRFM) [Institute for Magnetic Fusion Research], head of research at the CEA [ French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission], and represents France at the consortium that is leading the European research program on magnetic fusion: EUROfusion.
The energy of tomorrow
Of all the potential sources of energy, nuclear fusion is by far the most widespread throughout the universe: it ensures the combustion of hydrogen in stars, which are H bombs restricted by their own mass. The idea of mastering a miniature star and to extract almost gratis and unlimited energy from it (hydrogen is the most abundant chemical element) has been floated for over a half-century, and has recently materialized in an international project called ITER, housed at the CEA in the Cadarache research center.
Scientists are working on it to be able by 2025 to reach “Break Even,” the threshold starting from which as much energy would be extracted as has been put into it to achieve results. It will then be a matter of moving on to the research and development phase, in order to extract energy from a plasma of hydrogen held in magnetic confinement in a tokamak (a Russian acronym for “toric magnetic chamber”), the prototype of future fusion reactors. The technological challenges are daunting, but the promise of an inexhaustible energy source, one that is much “cleaner” than classic nuclear energy (fission) represents a crucial goal for humanity.
This book describes in detail the long road, still filled with political and industrial obstacles, to nuclear fusion, which, regardless of what may come, will be the energy of tomorrow.