The world took a big step toward nuclear fusion Wednesday when the Joint European Torus (JET) tokamak reactor released 59 megajoules of energy in a 5-second pulse, more than doubling the previous record. Unlike fission, which splits atoms, fusion does not create reactive nuclear waste.
“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,” said Ian Chapman, CEO of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, where JET is housed. “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.”
It still required more energy input to trigger the pulse than it let out, and nuclear physicists still need to figure out how to sustain the energy release for longer periods, but Wednesday’s burst was a good sign for the success of JET’s much-larger sibling, ITER, which is being built in France and is expected to be ready for experimentation in 2025. It should be able to produce more energy than it consumes and to have a self-sustaining reaction that could serve as a blueprint for power plants.
“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,” Eurofusion CEO Tony Donne said. “If we can maintain fusion for 5 seconds, we can do it for 5 minutes and then 5 hours as we scale up our operations in future machines.”