European researchers have brought the prospect of virtually limitless nuclear energy closer to reality by breaking the fusion power record by nearly a factor of three at the U.K.'s Joint European Torus facility near Oxford, England.
Generating 59 megajoules of sustained energy—averaging 11 MW over five seconds—confirms the line of development now in process at the world's largest fusion research project, called ITER, that is now under construction in France, program researchers claim.
The EUROfusion team at the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority’s JET facility beat the previous record of 22 megajoules reached there in 1997.
A joint effort of 35 countries, ITER is a vast and intricate complex that will merge isotopes of hydrogen in a plasma at around 150 million° C to create net energy. The plasma is contained by strong magnetic fields within a toroidal magnetic chamber called a Tokamak.
If all goes as planned, the plant will be at full power in 2035, generating 500 MW with 50 MW of input energy. ITER is an acronym for the project's original name, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor.
The new record takes "a huge step closer to conquering one of the biggest scientific and engineering challenges of them all," says Ian Chapman, the U.K. authority's CEO.
"More importantly, the things we’ve learned about fusion under these conditions and how they fully confirm our predictions, show that we are on the right path to a future world of fusion energy," added Tony Donné, program manager at EUROfusion, which includes research bodies from the European Union, the U.K. and Switzerland.
The JET program uses the same deuterium-tritium fuel mix under similar conditions to those that are planned for the ITER facility being built on a 180-hectare site at Saint Paul-lez-Durance, 75 km north of Marseille.
JET's sustained power output is "a strong confidence builder that we are on the right track as we move forward toward demonstrating full fusion power,” commented Bernard Bigot, ITER director general.
The ITER reactor is planned to start work in 2025 after 15 years of construction. It aims eventually to generate the 500 MW of fusion power as a precursor to a full-scale prototype.