Scientists in Europe have achieved a new record for energy produced by nuclear fusion. This is another step forward in the decades-long quest to harness the reaction that powers our sun.
Researchers at the Joint European Torus Facility outside Oxford produced 69 megajoules during a sustained reaction lasting five second — enough energy for about 70 kettles. This is a record that surpasses their previous 59 Megajoules, set in 2021.
The latest accomplishment came in December, during the last set of tests to be performed at JET. JET will be decommissioned by this year.
Scientists are still a long way off from commercializing Fusion Power. The JET experiment of December used far more energy than it produced. Scientists and engineers need to figure out a way to maintain the reaction for longer in order build a power plant.
JET, a collaboration between EU members states, Switzerland, UK, and Ukraine, has been the largest and most powerful “tokamak machine” in operation since 1983, and it set its first record in energy production in 1997.
Tokamak, invented by Soviet scientists in 1950, uses powerful magnets that hold a plasma made of two hydrogen isotopes – deuterium, and tritium – in place while it’s heated to temperatures higher than the sun, so the atomic nuclei fuse to release energy.
Andrew Bowie said that JET’s last fusion experiment was a fitting farewell after the pioneering work done on the project since 1983.
Plasma physicists claim that fusion reactions could one day be a source of energy low in carbon emissions.
Fusion does not produce radioactive waste that is long-lasting, unlike fission, the nuclear power process in which atoms split. These isotopes are available in large quantities and can power a home for hundreds of year with a cupful of fuel.
The announcement on Thursday was welcomed by experts as another sign of progress.
“JET is operating as closely as possible to the conditions of a power plant with today’s equipment, and its legacy in future power plants will be prevalent,” said Sir Ian Chapman. He is chief executive at UK Atomic Energy Authority which oversees Britain’s Fusion Programme. It is a key component in moving us towards a sustainable and safe future.
JET will be replaced by the UK project known as the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production Project (STEP), which is to be built at the site of an old coal-fired station in Nottinghamshire. The government hopes STEP can become the first fusion machine in the world that will supply electricity to the grid before early 2040.