EUROfusion consortium reports record-breaking levels of energy generation, fuelling hopes UK can ‘lead the world on the commercial roll-out of this transformational technology’
Scientists are this afternoon celebrating a new record for nuclear fusion energy generation, which has been hailed as a major breakthrough for the nascent low carbon technology.
A record 59 megajoules of sustained fusion energy was demonstrated by scientists and engineers from the EUROfusion initiative working on the Joint European Torus (JET), the largest and most powerful operational tokamak machine in the world that is based at a facility in Oxford.
The performance, which was described as evidence of the technology’s power plant potential, delivered more than double the energy delivered from the previous record that was achieved in 1997 at the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) site in Oxford.
The breakthrough was celebrated by Science Minister George Freeman who said the “milestone results are testament to the UK’s role as a global leader in fusion energy research”.
“They are evidence that the ground-breaking research and innovation being done here in the UK, and via collaboration with our partners across Europe, is making fusion power a reality,” he said. “Our Industrial Strategy for Fusion is intended to ensure the UK continues to lead the world on the commercial roll-out of this transformational technology, with the potential to deliver clean energy for generations to come.”
Professor Ian Chapman, UKAEA’s CEO, said the “landmark results” had taken researchers “a huge step closer to conquering one of the biggest scientific and engineering challenges of them all”.
He also predicted the technology could play a critical role in helping to tackle the climate crisis. “It’s clear we must make significant changes to address the effects of climate change, and fusion offers so much potential,” he said. “We’re building the knowledge and developing the new technology required to deliver a low carbon, sustainable source of baseload energy that helps protect the planet for future generations. Our world needs fusion energy.”
His comments were echoed by Tony Donné, EUROfusion programme manager, said: “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. 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.”
Fusion has long been regarded as a means of providing near-limitless zero carbon power by harnessing the process that powers stars like the sun, with advocates arguing the approach is reliant on inexpensive raw materials and is inherently safer than conventional nuclear power plants as it cannot trigger chain reactions.
However, decades of research are yet to culminate in a commercial reactor and environmental campaigners have repeatedly warned that based on even the most optimistic timetables for the technology’s development economies will have to slash emissions well before full scale fusion power plants are ready to come online if global climate goals are to be met.
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