Nuclear fusion, the same process that powers stars, has the potential to secure a cleaner future for humankind. Its ability to generate massive amounts of energy without heating up our atmosphere makes it a convenient form of alternative form of energy and UK’s JET laboratory is seemingly help us take the first steps in that direction.
The Joint European Torus (JET) facility has set a world record by producing an enormous amount of energy in an experiment. The breakthrough came following a 40-year long research focusing on nuclear fusion, as announced on Thursday, February 8.
Scientists working on the project have stated that, “we have achieved things we’ve never done before”.
The JET facility was built in the 1970s in Culham, Oxford and despite being based in the UK is funded primarily by the European Union’s nuclear research program Euratom. It is hosted by the UK Atomic Energy Agency and was the most advanced experimental fusion reactor of the world “until the end of last year”, as per BBC.
Andrew Bowie, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Nuclear and Networks, remarked, “JET’s final fusion experiment is a fitting swansong after all the ground-breaking work that has gone into the project since 1983. We are closer to fusion energy than ever before thanks to the international team of scientists and engineers in Oxfordshire”.
Nuclear Fusion Energy, A Long Way To Go
The nuclear fusion process is also responsible for powering the Sun and mainly involves the amalgamation of tiny particles which result in the formation of a heavier particle thereby, releasing a considerable amount of energy in the process. The energy thus, produced is mainly clean and can be successfully used to lower our carbon emissions. Additionally, its production is quite feasible as opposed to other forms of renewable energy like wind and solar energy which are contingent upon weather conditions.
However, as of now, the progress which has been been made in the field is inconspicuous in terms of commercial use as Dr. Aneeqa Khan Research Fellow in Nuclear Fusion, University of Manchester, points out, “In order for the atoms to fuse together on Earth, we need temperatures ten times hotter than the Sun- around 100 million celsius, and we need a high enough density of the atoms and for along time enough”.
As per BBC, the recent experiment generated “69 megajoules of energy over five seconds” which is “only enough for four to five baths”. Although we have long way ahead of us in terms of nuclear fusion power plants, the ongoing projects only add to the pool of knowledge and take us one step closer towards accomplishing our dreams for a cleaner and healthier environment and planet.
Future of UK in EU Nuclear Research?
The Brexit marked the end of UK’s participation in the Euratom Programme, further the government opted to stay out of the nuclear program last year.
Euratom is now focusing on JET’s successor ITER, based in France. Set to be the world’s largest nuclear fusion experiment, the ITER will likely become operational in 2025. Although it was slated to open in 2016 and was supposed to around 5 billion Euros, the nuclear project’s has quadrupled over the years and has pushed back its opening by a decade. This delay has also been cited as one of the reasons as to why the UK opted not to rejoin the project.
The project members include China, the European Union, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the United States with Europe providing the lion’s share of economic investment.
BBC further revealed that the UK and EU are currently discussing the former’s future role with regard to the ITER.