European scientists say they have made a big breakthrough in nuclear fusion. The Fusion Energy Center in Culham, UK has broken its own world record for the amount of energy produced by fusion.
During the experiment, scientists received 59 megajoules of energy in five seconds (11 megawatts of power). This is more than twice as much as received in 1997.
This amount of energy is enough to boil about 60 kettles of water. But the main point of the experiment is that it confirmed the right choice of design for a larger fusion reactor currently under construction in France.
"The JET experiments have taken us one step closer to fusion power," said Dr. Joe Milnes, head of the operations lab. “We have demonstrated that we can create a mini-star inside our machine and keep it there for five seconds, getting high performance, which really opens up new opportunities for us.”
If nuclear fusion can be successfully recreated on Earth, it will pave the way for the development of virtually unlimited sources of low-carbon energy. It is assumed that the power plants of the future, which will be based on thermonuclear fusion, will not produce greenhouse gases, but only a very small amount of radioactive waste with a short decay time.
The Fusion Laboratory installation works on the principle that energy can be released through the interaction of atomic nuclei. not by splitting them, as is the case with the fission reactions that power existing nuclear power plants.
At the core of the Sun, the enormous gravitational pressure allows the process to take place at a temperature of about 10 million degrees Celsius. Under Earth conditions, temperatures for fusion to occur would have to be much higher—more than 100 million degrees Celsius. However, the problem is that there are no materials yet that can withstand direct contact with such a high temperature. To achieve fusion in the lab, the scientists developed a solution in which a superheated gas or plasma is trapped inside a magnetic field generated by copper magnets. France will use superconducting magnets with internal cooling. In September 2021, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced the development of such a magnet.
In 1997, a British lab used carbon in the setup, but it absorbs tritium, which is radioactive. Therefore, for the last tests, the body of the installation was made of beryllium and tungsten metals.
So far, thermonuclear reactions consume more energy than they produce. The Jet uses two 500-megawatt flywheels to conduct experiments.
But there is strong evidence that this shortfall can be bridged in the future as plasma scales up. The volume of the ITER toroidal body will be 10 times larger than that of the JET.
The ITER installation in the south of France is supported by a consortium of world governments, including those from EU member states, the US, China and Russia. The French laboratory's preferred "fuel" for plasma production would be a mixture of two forms or isotopes of hydrogen called deuterium and tritium.
The British laboratory has been operating for almost 40 years. It will probably be taken out of service after 2023, and ITER will begin operation in 2025.
In June 2021, the Chinese physicists who developed the EAST tokamak managed to set a record for the duration of confinement of superhot plasma. Plasma with a temperature of 120 million K was held by the installation for 101 seconds, and heated to 160 million K, it was possible to keep it for 20 seconds. The EAST fusion reactor was assembled in 2006.