The wave of fusion energy experiments begins with a pioneering machine

the biggest nuclear fusion An experiment in the world, the Joint European Ring (JET), began a new wave of testing this month.

In a statement from the UK Atomic Energy Authority, it was announced that EUROfusion researchers at JET, located in Oxford, England, had begun testing nuclear fusion using helium and hydrogen, and then deuterium and tritium fuels.

Nuclear fusion is the process that The forces of the sun: Hydrogen atoms collide, fuse together to form a helium atom, releasing massive amounts of energy as they do. The reaction requires a large amount of energy to start, however, the hydrogen atoms must collide at very high speeds in order to fuse.

“We take light hydrogen atoms, and fuse them together, to make an atom of something else,” said JET Director Fernanda Rimini. NEWSWEEK. “And this other thing has a slightly less mass than the original two. So, because of Einstein’s equation, E = MC2, that mass turns into energy. This is how fusion produces energy. There are a lot of reactions you can use: the reaction we’re using has two isotopes of hydrogen called deuterium and tritium.”

Jet
Shown above is an interior of a JET with superimposed plasma. JET began nuclear fusion experiments after breaking records in 2021.
EUROfusion / UKAEA

Deuterium and tritium are hydrogen atoms with one neutron and two in their nuclei with their single proton, respectively. This fuel is heated and compressed to achieve ultra-high temperature and ultra-high pressure hydrogen plasma, which is required for integration. This plasma is then contained using a magnet.

“[JET] It’s an experimental reactor, but it was never designed to produce electricity or produce more energy than what we put in,” Rimini said. “This is called magnetic confinement fusion. [JET]I think, it’s the largest of these trials being run in the world right now.”

JET broke the world record for continuous fusion energy last year with 59 megajoules of continuous fusion energy produced in five seconds.

“The record is that not only did we produce measurable fusion and fusion, we produced twice as much as we did in 1997,” Remini said. “But we produced it over five seconds, so it’s pretty consistent, it’s really long, it’s as long as we can because the experience really isn’t designed to last longer.”

If we fully harness nuclear fusion, we can generate electricity using only hydrogen as a fuel, and only produce helium as a byproduct, without any greenhouse gases or toxic radioactive residues.

But there are many barriers to getting to this point. We just managed to Ignition realization In a research laboratory at NIFAnd the Which basically means that the reaction itself produced enough energy to be self-sufficient. Second, there are several issues related to tuning the extreme temperatures of the plasma inside the tokamak nuclear fusion reactor.

“A core component of ITER’s research plan is to explore the control of plasma-wall interaction at high fusion temperatures,” Dr. Tim Loos said in the statement.

“It’s a problem because the plasma is so hot, and all the energy that’s going in, to heat this plasma to 150 million degrees, it has to come out either as radiation or as an energy conduction, basically,” Remini said. “The walls of the machine in the experiment, in our case, are made of metal, and that metal comes in and kind of pollutes the plasma.”

According to the press release, in the next 16 weeks of experiments at JET, EUROfusion researchers will study the behavior of plasma as well as test the effect of helium on JET’s tungsten and beryllium wall. These small tests in JET will help enable ITER in France to start operating once construction is complete.

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