Energia, il giusto ITER

24 novembre 2006.

Pubblicato su Altrenotizie

Cina, Corea del sud, Stati Uniti, India, Giappone, Russia e Unione Europea hanno firmato a Parigi il trattato per ITER, un progetto di reattore sperimentale a fusione termonucleare che punta a fornire tra qualche decennio un’energia pulita ed illimitata. L’accordo, per un valore di oltre dieci miliardi di euro, è stato firmato all’Eliseo ed è la conclusione di una lunga trattativa. ITER è la sigla di International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (reattore sperimentale termonucleare internazionale), e vorrebbe essere una via per il superamento dell’energia nucleare da fissione. Nei prossimi mesi a Bruxelles sarà inoltre siglato un accordo tra Europa e Giappone per la realizzazione di impianti complementari ad ITER.

Per Kaname Ikeda, direttore generale di ITER, si tratta di una cooperazione internazionale senza precedenti, in quanto “potrà contribuire a creare una nuova fonte energetica per l’umanità“. Rispetto alla fissione nucleare, il processo di fusione è intrinsecamente sicuro, perché l’eventuale perdita di controllo del processo porterebbe all’immediato spegnimento della reazione, e non ad una reazione a catena. Il rovescio della medaglia sta nella non immediata realizzazione del sistema a fusione, attualmente prevista in circa 10 anni, per quanto riguarda il prototipo.
L’impianto verrà costruito a Cadarache nel Sud della Francia e consentirà di svolgere esperimenti per la produzione di plasmi con deuterio e trizio e parallelamente di sviluppare le nuove tecnologie necessarie per le centrali a fusione del futuro. ITER rappresenta un importante esperimento di fusione termonucleare controllata, basato sulla configurazione detta “tokamak”, nel quale intensi campi magnetici confinano un plasma di forma toroidale che dovrà produrre più energia rispetto a quella consumata.

Il reattore ITER avrà dimensioni confrontabili con quelle di una comune centrale elettrica e produrrà circa 500 MW di potenza per tempi prossimi all’ora, utilizzando pochi grammi di combustibile, deuterio e trizio, due isotopi dell’idrogeno. In particolare, il trizio verrà ricavato all’interno del reattore dal litio. I materiali radioattivi prodotti all’interno della centrale sono tutti isotopi leggeri, con tempi di decadimento dell’ordine dei cento anni, molto più brevi quindi di quelli delle scorie radioattive delle attuali centrali nucleari a fissione. Inoltre il prodotto della fusione è l’elio un gas nobile inerte.

Alla base della realizzazione tecnologica di un impianto a fusione ci sono risultati scientifici di tutto rispetto, raggiunti anche da enti di ricerca italiani, risultati che hanno permesso all’Italia di svolgere un ruolo di primo piano sia nello sviluppo e nella comprensione della fisica dei plasmi, sia nella progettazione di ITER e dei suoi principali componenti. In particolare, è italiana la progettazione di IFMIF (International Fusion Materials Irradiation Facility), un impianto per la prova dei materiali critici del futuro reattore a fusione.

I principali centri di ricerca si trovano a Frascati (ENEA), a Milano (Istituto Fisica del Plasma del CNR) e a Padova con il Consorzio RFX (ENEA, CNR, Università di Padova e INFN).
Fa parte del Consorzio RFX anche l’Istituto gas ionizzati del Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR) di Padova che opera da diversi anni, in collaborazione con diversi laboratori internazionali, con ricerche volte alla comprensione dei fenomeni di comportamento del plasma e con risultati significativi ottenuti sulla macchina RFX. Sempre a Padova è prevista la realizzazione del principale impianto sussidiario di ITER, l’impianto NBI (Neutral Beam Injector) per lo sviluppo di acceleratori di fasci di particelle idonei a produrre il riscaldamento iniziale e il controllo della corrente elettrica in ITER.
A tale impresa partecipa anche l’Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN) che ha sviluppato nel laboratorio di Legnaro (Padova) alte competenze nel campo della fisica degli acceleratori di particelle.
Anche l’Istituto di fisica del plasma del Cnr di Milano svolge ricerche nel campo della tecnologia dei plasmi e della fusione termonucleare controllata. In collaborazione con la Svizzera, sta sviluppando ECRH, una tecnica di riscaldamento a radiofrequenza per Iter; l’attività avrà base a Ginevra dove si svilupperà e verrà realizzato un impianto di prova.

La firma del trattato è il risultato di uno straordinario sforzo diplomatico ed economico. Ora l’azione passa alla comunità scientifica, alla quale sarà richiesto un impegno altrettanto eccezionale: il superamento della fissione nucleare. Se l’impresa, troppo faraonica secondo gli scettici, dovesse riuscire, già verso gli anni ’30 del secolo la prima energia prodotta con la fusione potrebbe essere immessa sulle reti elettriche mondiali.

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