OXFORD, England – European scientists at the Joint European Torus facility have achieved a new milestone in nuclear fusion, marking a significant advancement in the quest for sustainable power generation through harnessing the energy of the sun. In December, researchers were able to produce 69 megajoules of energy from a sustained fusion reaction lasting five seconds, surpassing their previous record of 59 megajoules set in 2021.
The facility, known as JET, is a collaboration between EU member states, Switzerland, the UK, and Ukraine, and has been the world’s largest, most powerful operational “tokamak” machine since its inception in 1983. Using a tokamak design, which utilizes magnetic forces to contain a plasma of hydrogen isotopes, the scientists are able to heat the plasma to temperatures hotter than the sun, causing atomic nuclei to fuse and release energy.
Despite this significant achievement, scientists acknowledge that there is still a long way to go before harnessing fusion power becomes commercially viable. The energy consumed by the JET experiment in December far exceeded the energy produced, and sustaining the reactions for longer periods of time remains a challenge. Nonetheless, experts in plasma physics believe that fusion reactions hold the potential to provide a safe and virtually limitless source of low-carbon energy in the future.
Looking ahead, the UK has plans to replace JET with the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) project, which is aimed at supplying power to the grid by the early 2040s. This new endeavor represents a step forward in the quest for sustainable and safe energy production. Sir Ian Chapman, chief executive of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, emphasized the critical role that JET has played in advancing fusion research, expressing confidence in the legacy it will leave for future power plants.
The latest achievement in nuclear fusion research has been welcomed as a significant step forward by experts in the field. The potential for fusion power to produce no long-lived radioactive waste and to be sourced in large quantities holds promise for a future of sustainable and environmentally-friendly energy production. While challenges still lie ahead, the progress made at JET and the plans for future projects demonstrate a commitment to pursuing innovative solutions for global energy needs.