On Wednesday, the EuroFusion consortium, the umbrella organization of Europe’s fusion research laboratories, announced that the Joint European Torus (JET), located in the United Kingdom, set a new global energy record, confirming that an era of full fusion power, a process which powers the sun, may be mere years away.
“The experiment at the Joint European Torus (JET) in Oxford on 21 December saw a super-hot plasma sustained for 5 seconds, producing a record 59 megajoules of heat energy. JET’s previous record was 22 megajoules for less than a second, set in 1997,” New Scientist reported.
The goal of scientists pursuing fusion power is to generate more power than is put in and keep that going for a sustained period. “Fusion takes place when atomic nuclei are brought close enough together that they merge, creating a heavier element. It’s the process that powers stars, and it could produce vast amounts of energy from small amounts of hydrogen isotopes if we could reproduce the temperatures and pressures found in stars here on Earth,” ARS Technica explained.
New Scientist added, “Nuclear fusion holds the promise of a continuous low carbon power supply without the radioactive waste problem of its cousin, nuclear power from fission. The new record is significant as it indicates commercial fusion power could become a reality.”
“Fusion, the process that powers stars like our sun, promises a near-limitless green electricity source for the long term, using small amounts of fuel that can be sourced worldwide from inexpensive materials,” The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority echoed, adding, “As pressures mount to address the effects of climate change through decarbonizing energy production, this success is a major step forward on fusion’s roadmap as a safe, efficient, low carbon means of tackling the global energy crisis.”
The testing at JET is indicative that at the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), located in the south of France and boasting a larger tokamak (a doughnut-shaped structure that can house hydrogen plasma and have intense magnetic fields contain and compress it), the goal of producing more energy than put in could be achieved by 2025.
EuroFusion team member Volker Naulin stated, “It’s really confirmation that what has been calculated for ITER is not a fantasy number.” Juan Matthews at the University of Manchester said, “JET is getting close to breakeven, with power close to that being used to run the reactor. We must remember that JET is using real fuel with tritium as well as deuterium and these pulsed tests will be valuable in making sure ITER is able to get off to a running start once it begins operation. Very few fusion experiments are using tritium.”
Dr. Bernard Bigot, Director General of ITER, said, “A sustained pulse of deuterium-tritium fusion at this power level – nearly industrial scale – delivers a resounding confirmation to all of those involved in the global fusion quest. For the ITER Project, the JET results are a strong confidence builder that we are on the right track as we move forward toward demonstrating full fusion power.”
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