Scientists set new record of nuclear fusion

February 9, 2024  09:56

Scientists and engineers in the vicinity of the English city of Oxford have achieved a noteworthy milestone in nuclear fusion energy, as announced on Thursday, advancing the prospect of this clean and futuristic power source. Using the Joint European Torus (JET), a large toroidal device known as a tokamak, the team sustained a record 69 megajoules of fusion energy for five seconds, utilizing only 0.2 milligrams of fuel. This amount of energy is sufficient to power approximately 12,000 households for the same duration.

Nuclear fusion, the same process that fuels the sun and other stars, is widely regarded as the holy grail of clean energy. Scientists have been working for decades to replicate this highly complex process on Earth, envisioning that successful mastery could result in substantial energy generation with minimal fuel inputs and no emission of carbon contributing to global warming.

What is nuclear fusion?

In the experiment, deuterium and tritium, hydrogen variants anticipated for use in future commercial fusion plants, were fed into the tokamak. To initiate fusion energy, the researchers raised temperatures in the machine to an extreme 150 million degrees Celsius, approximately ten times hotter than the sun's core. This intense heat caused the deuterium and tritium to fuse, forming helium and releasing a significant amount of heat. The tokamak, equipped with powerful magnets, contained the plasma, and the harnessed heat was converted into electricity.

This achievement marks the final experiment for JET, which has been in operation for over 40 years. The successful demonstration and the new energy record are considered promising for upcoming fusion projects, such as ITER, the world's largest tokamak under construction in southern France, and DEMO, a planned machine following ITER with the goal of producing even higher energy levels as a prototype for a fusion plant.

Ambrogio Fasoli, CEO of EUROfusion, the consortium behind the experiment, sees this success as instilling greater confidence in the development of fusion energy for future machines like ITER and DEMO.

However, while fusion energy holds potential as a gamechanger for addressing the climate crisis caused by fossil fuel burning, it remains a technology likely to require many years for commercialization. Aneeqa Khan, a research fellow in nuclear fusion at the University of Manchester, points out that significant challenges, including the need for more energy input than output in the experiment, remain.

“However, investment in fusion is growing and we are making real progress. We need to be training up a huge number of people with the skills to work in the field and I hope the technology will be used in the latter half of the century,” she said.

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