UK scientists ignite hope for a clean energy future by producing record-breaking fusion power
Do you suppose that the men who manually shoveled huge amounts of coal into the fire were imagining that one day, vastly more power could be generated using only a fraction of the fuel they were throwing into the furnace? That day has arrived.
This week the world of nuclear fusion was full of excitement. On the heels of America’s breakthrough in inertial fusion – an experiment in which a fusion reaction released more energy than it consumed – scientists in the UK have just announced a record energy output from their own fusion experiment.
In a test that lasted an impressive five seconds, the Joint European Torus (JET) extracted 69.26 megajoules of energy from just 0.21 milligrams of fuel – that’s equivalent to the energy you’d get from 2kg of coal! JET achieved this impressive feat through nuclear fusion, the same process that powers our sun. The fuel used is a mixture of two types of heavy hydrogen: deuterium and tritium.
While this achievement is a world record, JET does not aim to be the ultimate power plant. It’s a groundbreaking device, paving the way for larger prototypes scheduled for launch next year that promise to generate between 10 and 25 times the power they consume.
But back to JET’s success, it serves as a validation of the tokamak design, a donut-shaped chamber where a powerful magnet holds the superheated plasma that fuels the fusion reaction. Creating and controlling such plasmas at temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees is no easy feat, and JET has tackled two major challenges:
Heat Taming: The intense energy released by the plasma can damage the walls of the chamber. JET has demonstrated techniques to “smooth” this heat, protecting future fusion machines.
Keeping it stable: Energy blasts can also wreak havoc. JET has demonstrated how to control the plasma edge, prevent these explosions and ensure smooth operation.
These are not just theoretical solutions, JET has tested them in a real-world environment using the same fuel mixture (deuterium and tritium) that will be used in future power plants. This adds an important layer of trust to the entire integration endeavor.
While a commercial nuclear fusion power plant is still decades away, these achievements are a stepping stone across the river, each one bringing us closer to the other side. The UK’s achievement, coupled with recent US success, demonstrates that there are multiple paths to a clean energy future.
Scientists hope that with continued experimentation and collaboration, these technologies can be improved and help us move toward a cleaner, star-powered world, here on Earth.
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