JET, the largest tokamak in the world, has set a record for fusion energy.
Researchers from the EUROfusion consortium, described by the organization as “4,800 experts, students, and staff from across Europe,” achieved a whopping 59 megajoules of sustained fusion energy in just five seconds. In December 2021, the Joint European Torus (JET) in the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) in Oxford, England, set the world record for generated fusion energy.
A tokamak is a magnetic fusion device that generates fusion energy, the future of clean energy. While other energy sources have harmful byproducts that pollute the environment, fusion energy’s only waste is helium. Pound for pound, fusion releases almost four million times more energy than burning coal, oil, or gas.
JET creates fusion energy using a fuel made from deuterium and tritium, making it the only operational tokamak in the world that is powered by the type of fuel researchers plan to use for future tokamaks. To begin the process, researchers add 0.1 mg of the deuterium-tritium mix into the tokamak. Then JET creates plasmas that can reach over 150 million °C (10x that of the sun). The heat released by the plasma is held in place by a magnet and then converted into energy.
EUROfusion researchers ran the JET for 5 seconds, producing 59 megajoules of energy and surpassing the previous record of 21.7 megajoules achieved at the same site in 1997. Putting this amount of energy into perspective is enough to power 35,000 homes in the same amount of time.
The tokamak was only about to run for 5 seconds because any more time would have overheated its copper wire magnets.
JET is an essential testing ground for ITER, a prototype fusion plant supported by the collaboration of 35 nations. ITER, translated as “the way” in Latin, will be the largest international fusion experiment to date. The plant is 80% completed, with plans to create its first plasma in 2025.
JET’s success is promising for those in the fusion community. “The operational experience we’ve gained under realistic conditions gives us great confidence for the next stage of experiments at ITER,” Tonny Donné, EUROfusion Program Manager (CEO), said in a press release.
Fusion energy can potentially change the landscape of commercial energy as we know it. Deuterium can be found in seawater, while tritium can be produced by interactions with cosmic rays and nuclear fission reactors. Fusion energy is safe, efficient, and sustainable compared to other fuel sources, and scientists are looking forward to a future with clean energy.
“If we can maintain fusion for five seconds, we can do it for five minutes and then five hours as we scale up our operations in future machines,” Donné said.