Nuclear fusion powers the Sun.
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Researchers working on a project centered around fusion energy — the process that powers stars — have hailed “record-breaking” results produced by a landmark experiment in the U.K.
Engineers and scientists from the EUROfusion consortium were able to produce 59 megajoules of heat energy from fusion across a period of five seconds on Dec. 21, 2021. It surpasses a previous record from 1997, when 22 megajoules of heat energy was generated.
The amount of energy produced by the experiment is not huge, however, with reports stating that 59 megajoules can boil around 60 kettles of water.
The results were achieved at the Joint European Torus, or JET, facility in Oxfordshire, U.K. Co-funded by the European Commission, EUROfusion is made up of thousands of engineers, scientists, students and other experts from throughout Europe.
“The record, and more importantly the things we’ve learned about fusion under these conditions and how it fully confirms our predictions, show that we are on the right path to a future world of fusion energy,” Tony Donne, program manager at EUROfusion, said on Wednesday.
“If we can maintain fusion for five seconds, we can do it for five minutes and then five hours as we scale up our operations in future machines,” Donne added.
While a significant amount of work is required for fusion to realize its potential, there are high hopes for it going forward.
A statement released by organizations involved in the JET project said fusion promised a “near-limitless green electricity source for the long term, using small amounts of fuel that can be sourced worldwide from inexpensive materials.”
The Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, which operates JET and is a member of EUROfusion, describes fusion as “the process that takes place in the heart of stars and provides the power that drives the universe.”
“When light nuclei fuse to form a heavier nucleus, they release bursts of energy,” it says. Fusion is not the same as fission, which is used in nuclear power plants.
Those working on the JET project said the results reported this week were “a major boost” for the work being undertaken at the much bigger ITER project in southern France.
“The larger French-based project and future power plants plan to use the same deuterium-tritium (D-T) fuel mix and operate under similar conditions to the record-breaking EUROfusion experiments held recently at Culham Science Centre, Oxford,” they said.
ITER is centered around the development of a magnetic fusion device known as a tokamak.
According to the team at ITER, the tokomak “has been designed to prove the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale and carbon-free source of energy based on the same principle that powers our Sun and stars.”
ITER is currently under construction. When it is up and running, those behind the project say it will generate net energy.
This term, ITER says, refers to what happens when “the total power produced during a fusion plasma pulse surpasses the thermal power injected to heat the plasma.”
ITER is backed by the EU, China, U.S., India, Russia, Japan and South Korea.