nuclear fusion tokamak

Fusion power experiment generates ‘milestone’ energy load

Image credit: Dreamstime-Dani3315

A “milestone” fusion energy experiment has been completed that demonstrates its potential as a safe and sustainable low-carbon energy source.

According to researchers from the EUROfusion consortium, which encompasses 4,800 experts from across Europe, the experiment at the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) site in Oxford more than doubled previous energy generation records that were achieved in 1997.

Fifty-nine megajoules of sustained fusion energy were generated for five seconds in the Joint European Torus (JET) tokamak machine.

The scientific data from the experiment is seen as a major boost for ITER, the larger and more advanced version of JET.

The ITER tokamak proof-of-concept fusion plant has been under construction in France since 2013. Its main reactor is planned to be completed in late 2025 and is designed to create and sustain a plasma of 500MW (thermal power) for 20 minutes, with just 50MW of thermal power injected into the reactor.

As pressures mount to address the effects of climate change through decarbonising energy production, hopes have long rested on the idea that fusion plants could provide a safe, efficient, low-carbon means of tackling the global energy crisis.

Science minister George Freeman said: “These milestone results are testament to the UK’s role as a global leader in fusion energy research. They are evidence that the ground-breaking research and innovation being done here in the UK, and via collaboration with our partners across Europe, is making fusion power a reality.

“Our Industrial Strategy for Fusion is intended to ensure the UK continues to lead the world on the commercial roll-out of this transformational technology, with the potential to deliver clean energy for generations to come.”

Ian Chapman, UKAEA’s CEO, said: “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.”

Fusion is the process that powers stars like our sun and promises a near-limitless green electricity source for the long term, using small amounts of fuel that can be sourced worldwide from inexpensive materials.

The fusion process brings together atoms of light elements like hydrogen at high temperatures to form helium and release tremendous energy as heat. Fusion is inherently safe in that it cannot start a runaway process.

The JET test facility is able to generate temperatures 10 times hotter than the centre of the sun so that scientists can test the technology.

Last month, UKAEA asked residents in five areas to provide feedback on potential plans to construct a prototype nuclear fusion power plant.

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