Scientists in the UK have set a new record for energy generated by nuclear fusion, an achievement heralded as a significant step towards overcoming one of the greatest scientific and engineering challenges.
Researchers from the EURO merger The consortium more than doubled previous records set in 1997 at the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) site in Oxford using the same deuterium-tritium (DT) fuel blend used by commercial fusion power nuclear power plants.
A total of 59 megajoules of sustainable fusion energy was demonstrated over the duration of the five-second experiment by scientists and engineers working on the Joint European Torus (JET), the world’s largest and most powerful operational tokamak. During this experiment, JET had an average fusion power of about 11 MW.
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The previous energy record of a fusion experiment, achieved by JET in 1997, was 22 megajoules of heat energy. The peak power of 16 MW, which was briefly achieved in 1997, has not been surpassed in recent experiments, as the emphasis has been on sustainable fusion power.
The record and scientific data from these experiments is a major boost for ITER, the fusion research megaproject supported by seven members – China, the European Union, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the US – in the south of France.
In a statement, Dr. Bernard Bigot, Director General of ITER, said: “A sustained pulse of deuterium-tritium fusion at this power level – almost industrial scale – provides a resounding confirmation to everyone involved in the global fusion quest. For the ITER project, the JET results are a strong confidence-builder that we are on the We are on the right track as we move forward toward demonstrating full fusion power.”
“JET has been upgraded over the years to mimic many of the systems that will be used in ITER,” added Dr Amy Gandy, senior lecturer in Nuclear Materials Engineering at Sheffield University. “These results therefore give confidence that ITER will deliver on its promise to produce a self-sufficient plasma capable of producing more energy when put into it.”
Fusion promises a near-limitless long-term green power source, using small amounts of fuel that can be sourced worldwide from cheap materials. The fusion process brings atoms of light elements such as hydrogen together at high temperatures to form helium and release enormous energy as heat. Fusion is inherently safe because it cannot start a runaway process.
Prof. dr. Ian Chapman, CEO of UKAEA, said the historic results bring scientists and engineers a huge step closer to overcoming one of the greatest scientific and engineering challenges.
Commenting on today’s announcement, Prof Robin Grimes FRS FREng, Steele Professor of Energy Material at Imperial College London, said: “This is further confirmation that the practical physics of fusion can deliver the energy levels we need to meet our low-carbon energy needs. not only for electricity but also for heat. While there are many technical challenges to overcome, this provides decision-makers with the evidence and therefore the confidence needed to maintain the momentum.”