Joint European Torus more than doubles fusion record with 59 megajoules

Next stop, ITER?

Scientists and engineers running the Joint European Torus (JET) facility in Oxford have announced a record-breaking 59 megajoules of heat energy from fusion, more than double the previous record achieved by JET.

The 59 megajoules was achieved over a five-second period in which JET averaged a fusion power of around 11 megawatts. The 21.7 megajoules reached by JET in 1997 (over a period of about four seconds) came in an experiment in which a peak of 16.1 megawatts was briefly achieved (for 0.85 seconds), but the focus this time around has been on sustained power.

JET, which began operations in 1983, recently celebrated its 100,000th pulse and was the first device to produce controlled fusion power with deuterium and tritium. It is a trailblazer for the much larger International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project currently under construction in southern France and had a new beryllium/tungsten plasma-facing wall installed just over 10 years ago to test out the configuration for its successor.

It is an impressive achievement, both in terms of the science and of the international cooperation involved in running the experiment. Despite the paroxysms of Brexit gripping the UK, JET has continued to demonstrate the ability of scientists to work together even if lawmakers won't.

The results are also a huge boost for ITER. Dr Bernard Bigot, director general of ITER, said: "A sustained pulse of deuterium-tritium fusion at this power level – nearly industrial scale – delivers a resounding confirmation to all of those involved in the global fusion quest. For the ITER Project, the JET results are a strong confidence builder that we are on the right track as we move forward toward demonstrating full fusion power."

ITER plans to use the same deuterium-tritium fuel mix and operate under similar conditions to the EUROfusion experiments in Oxford. The construction of a prototype fusion energy plant, producing net energy, is expected to be complete in the 2040 timeframe. ®

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