A group of British researchers broke the previous record on sustained nuclear fusion using a machine that reached a temperature 10 times hotter than the sun’s core.
The researchers, using their JET tokamak machine, were able to generate 59 megajoules of consistent energy in five seconds, doubling a previous record, the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) announced Wednesday. In that short time span, the machine produced enough energy to power a home for a day.
“If generated repeatedly, it could power thousands of houses,” University of Cambridge engineering professor Tony Roulstone told CNN.
“The energy you can get out of the fuel deuterium and tritium is massive,” Roulstone said. “For example, powering the whole of current UK electrical demand for a day would require 0.5 tonnes of deuterium, which could be extracted from seawater — where its concentration is low but plentiful.”
Fusion power — which powers the sun and stars — creates renewable, carbon-free energy through the fusion of two hydrogen atoms, according to the World Nuclear Association. Modern nuclear reactors generate power through the splitting, or fission, of hydrogen atoms, a process that creates nuclear waste, unlike fusion.
“The record, and more importantly the things we’ve learned about fusion under these conditions and how it fully confirms our predictions, show that we are on the right path to a future world of fusion energy,” Tony Donné, the program manager of EUROfusion, said Wednesday. “This is a big moment for every one of us and the entire fusion community.”
Several nations outside of Europe, including the U.S., Russia, China and Japan, have spearheaded projects to study whether fusion can be a reliable form of energy in the future. The Department of Energy has teamed up with several organizations and universities to pursue such projects while U.S. aerospace giant Lockheed Martin vowed to build a fusion reactor by 2024.
In January, a Chinese lab ran a nuclear fusion reactor for more than 17 minutes at a temperature five times greater than the sun’s, the Independent reported. That project, in which the Chinese government has invested nearly $1 trillion, was the record holder before the British experiment Wednesday.
“These landmark results have taken us a huge step closer to conquering one of the biggest scientific and engineering challenges of them all,” UKAEA CEO Ian Chapman said in a statement. “It is reward for over 20 years of research and experiments with our partners from across Europe.”
“It’s clear we must make significant changes to address the effects of climate change, and fusion offers so much potential,” Chapman said.
The UKAEA and European Commission funded the project in conjunction with EUROfusion, a consortium of 4,800 European experts, students and staff.
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