A new schedule for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter) fusion project has been approved by the Iter Council, confirming that first plasma is now scheduled for 2025 and the start of nuclear, or deuterium-tritium operation, for 2035. In June 2016 the Iter Organisation, whose work is overseen by the Iter Council, announced an updated schedule which identifies the date of first plasma as December 2025. That schedule has now been rubber-stamped.

First plasma was originally scheduled for 2018 with the start of deuterium-tritium operation set for 2026. However, in July 2010 the Iter Council agreed a new schedule under which first plasma is slated for November 2019, with deuterium-tritium operation starting in March 2027. “The overall project schedule was approved by all Iter members, and the overall project cost was approved ad referendum, meaning that it will now fall to each member to seek approval of project costs through respective governmental budget processes,” Iter said in a statement on 20 November.

The statement made no mention of the cost, which Iter previously put it at around €15bn ($16bn). Iter said project construction and manufacturing have sustained “a rapid pace” for the past 18 months, providing “tangible evidence of full adherence to commitments”. The successful completion to date of all 19 project milestones for 2016, on time and on budget, is a positive indicator of the collective capacity of the Iter Organisation and the domestic agencies to continue to deliver on the updated schedule, the statement said.

The domestic agencies liaise between the national governments of the seven Iter parties and Iter. The seven Iter parties are the European Union, the USA, China, India, Japan, Russia and South Korea. Iter, under construction at the Cadarache nuclear site in southern France, will be the world's largest experimental fusion facility and is designed to demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion as a safe, limitless and environmentally responsible energy source. Thirty-five nations are collaborating to build Iter, a tokamak magnetic fusion device, construction of which began in 2010.

Meanwhile, physicists at Russia’s Peter the Great St Petersburg Polytechnic University (SPbPU) have proposed a way to enhance the functioning of the tokamak (Russian acronym for "toroidal chamber with magnetic coils"), the press-service of SPbPU reported. Magnetic coils confine the plasma in which the reaction of controlled thermonuclear synthesis is occurring.

The plasma in the tokamak is confined by a magnetic field instead of by the chamber walls, as modern materials cannot endure the temperature needed for nuclear reactions. However, when the tokamak is operating, the energy released nevertheless ends up on the inner walls of a reactor resulting in its deterioration.

To solve the problem, researchers from SPbPU have suggested a "separation mode" where special admixtures are injected into the reactor via a diverter, a device for online removal of waste material from the reactor. These admixtures control the behaviour of plasma and do not allow energy currents to come in contact with the chamber walls, thereby reducing wear and tear.

"Scientists from SPbPU have demonstrated the method’s efficiency and modelled this regime by means of a numerical code known as SOLPS-ITER which has been developed in close collaboration with our European colleagues," said Vladimir Rozhansky, Chairman of the Department of Plasma Physics.

The "sparation mode" will be implemented in modern tokamaks including the ITER tokamak.