Scientists in the United Kingdom said they have achieved a new milestone in producing nuclear fusion energy, or imitating the way energy is produced in the Sun. Energy by nuclear fusion is one of mankind’s long standing quests as it promises to be low carbon, safer than how nuclear energy is now produced and, with an efficiency that can technically exceed a 100%.
A team at the Joint European Torus (JET) facility near Oxford in central England generated 59 megajoules of sustained energy during an experiment in December, more than doubling a 1997 record, the UK Atomic Energy Authority said in a statement on Monday. A kg of fusion fuel contains about 10 million times as much energy as a kg of coal, oil or gas.
The energy was produced in a machine called a tokamak, a doughnut-shaped apparatus, and the JET site is the largest operational one of its kind in the world. Deuterium and tritium, which are isotopes of hydrogen, are heated to temperatures 10 times hotter than the centre of the sun to create plasma. This is held in place using superconductor electromagnets as it spins around, fuses and releases tremendous energy as heat.
The record and scientific data from these crucial experiments are a major boost for ITER, the larger and more advanced version of the JET. ITER is a fusion research mega-project supported by seven members – China, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the USA – based in the south of France, to further demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion energy.
Ian Chapman, CEO, UK Atomic Energy Authority, said in a statement: “These landmark results have taken us a huge step closer to conquering one of the biggest scientific and engineering challenges of them all. It is reward for over 20 years of research and experiments with our partners from across Europe... It’s clear we must make significant changes to address the effects of climate change, and fusion offers so much potential. We’re building the knowledge and developing the new technology required to deliver a low carbon, sustainable source of baseload energy that helps protect the planet for future generations. Our world needs fusion energy.”
Last August, scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the U.S. reported generating 1.3 megajoules in 100 trillionths of a second from fusion in an alternative approach to a tokomak by focussing 192 giant lasers onto a pea-size pellet of hydrogen.