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UK’s nuclear fusion site ends experiments after 40 years

Imagine witnessing the culmination of 40 years of groundbreaking research and experimentation. That’s exactly what Professor Barry Green experienced in 1983 when the UK’s JET fusion laboratory conducted its first ever experiment. Since then, the European project has been dedicated to the pursuit of nuclear fusion and the promise of clean, limitless energy. However, after four decades of remarkable progress, the world’s most successful fusion reactor is coming to an end. Despite the challenges and delays faced by JET, the site holds the world record for the most energy produced from a fusion experiment. As the experiments conclude, scientists will continue to learn valuable insights from JET’s decommissioning process, ensuring that future fusion sites can benefit from this exceptional research.

UKs nuclear fusion site ends experiments after 40 years

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Background Information

Nuclear fusion, the process that powers the Sun and other stars, was “discovered” in the 1920s. However, research in the following years was focused on developing fusion for nuclear weapons. In 1958, when the United States’ war research on fusion was declassified, it sparked a race among countries like Russia, UK, Europe, Japan, and the US to develop fusion reactions for energy provision. Fusion is highly desirable for energy production as it releases a large amount of energy without any greenhouse gas emissions. It is considered the holy grail of energy production.

UKs nuclear fusion site ends experiments after 40 years

This image is property of ichef.bbci.co.uk.

The Joint European Torus (JET) Site

The Joint European Torus (JET) site was established to pursue nuclear fusion research. Located in Culham, Oxfordshire, UK, the site was a joint effort between the UK and European scientists. JET is the world’s largest and most powerful tokamak reactor, which uses magnetic fields to confine the plasma – a hot, ionized gas – inside a vessel. The choice of a tokamak model was crucial as it allowed for the fusion of light elements using a mix of deuterium-tritium fuel.

The first experiment at JET with the deuterium-tritium fuel mix took place in 1991. Since then, the site has achieved numerous records, including the world record for the most energy produced from a fusion experiment – 59 megajoules (MJ) during a five-second pulse. These experiments have played a significant role in advancing our understanding of fusion energy and its potential applications.

UKs nuclear fusion site ends experiments after 40 years

This image is property of ichef.bbci.co.uk.

Challenges and Delays

Despite its successes, the JET site faced many difficulties and delays throughout its four decades of operation. Experiments were suspended for nearly a decade in the mid-2000s while the internal structure of the site was replaced. Plasma stability and power load have been ongoing challenges in fusion research, and researchers at JET continue to work on finding solutions to these issues.

While JET has made impressive strides in fusion research, the amount of energy produced is still far from being sufficient to power homes. The current record of 59 MJ is only enough to boil about 60 kettles’ worth of water. However, the knowledge gained from JET’s experiments is invaluable and will aid in the development of fusion research at other sites.

UKs nuclear fusion site ends experiments after 40 years

This image is property of ichef.bbci.co.uk.

Future of JET and Fusion Research

After 40 years of operation, the JET site is preparing for its decommissioning. However, the site’s legacy will continue through its contributions to other fusion research sites. One such site is the Iter reactor in southern France, which is the largest fusion project globally and involves a consortium of countries including the EU, Russia, the US, and China. The research conducted at JET will help in maintaining and improving the performance of reactors like Iter.

Despite the end of experiments at JET, the UK is still committed to fusion research and energy production. The government has decided to pursue a domestic fusion energy strategy instead of associating with the EU’s Euratom program. As part of this strategy, the UK Atomic Energy Agency plans to build a prototype fusion energy plant in Nottinghamshire called STEP (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production). The UK government has allocated £650 million for this alternative fusion program, with operations planned to begin in the early 2040s.

UKs nuclear fusion site ends experiments after 40 years

This image is property of ichef.bbci.co.uk.

Conclusion

The Joint European Torus (JET) site has played a crucial role in advancing our understanding of fusion energy. Over four decades, it has achieved significant records and contributed important insights into plasma physics and fusion reactions. Despite facing challenges and delays, JET has paved the way for future fusion research and development. While the site is preparing for decommissioning, its legacy will live on through contributions to other fusion sites and the UK’s commitment to domestic fusion energy production. With ongoing research and investments, fusion energy holds the potential to revolutionize the world’s energy production and contribute to a sustainable and clean future.

Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-67101176?at_medium=RSS&at_campaign=KARANGA