General Atomics Chairman and CEO Neal Blue in front of a machine winding the first magnet in 2015. Photo by Chris Jennewein

San Diego-based General Atomics is set to ship out a key component for a nuclear fusion project currently under construction in Southern France, the company announced Tuesday.

The Central Solenoid, a large magnet consisting of six modules, will be shipped out piece by piece and will make up a central piece of the ITER global fusion energy project. The project is a collaboration of 35 partner nations aimed at creating a magnetic fusion device designed to prove the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale, carbon-free energy source.

Fusion is the nuclear reaction from which the sun derives its energy. Since it uses commonly available hydrogen, fusion is seen as an inexhaustible energy source if a reactor can be perfected.

General Atomics calls the Central Solenoid the world’s most powerful magnet and the “beating heart” of the ITER machine, which — when fully assembled — will weigh a thousand tons and reach a magnetic field strength of 13 Tesla, about 280,000 times stronger than the earth’s magnetic field. The support structures for the Central Solenoid will have to withstand forces equal to twice the thrust of a space shuttle lift-off.

The first Central Solenoid module will be shipped to Houston on a special heavy transport truck, then placed on an ocean-going vessel to France. The next module will be shipped in August, according to General Atomics.

The ITER machine is slated to be powered on for the first time in December 2025.

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