Britain’s artificial sun breaks its own power record


The JET nuclear fusion reactor reached 69 megajoules for 5 seconds. This is decisive for advancing scientific research on “artificial suns”, with the immense ITER project in sight.

Nuclear fusion is a promise, that of a powerful and carbon-free energy source. This type of reactor reproduces the functioning of a star, which is why these reactors are nicknamed “artificial suns”. No installation of this type is usable today: they are scientific prototypes. The JET (Joint European Torus) is one of them.

“We have done things we have never done before,” said scientists from this UK-based laboratory, communicating their new advances on February 8, 2024. This reactor is currently the largest tokamak in the world. world — a donut-shaped reactor, where the fusion reaction caused by magnetic confinement takes place and is absorbed by the walls, to be converted into heat.

69 megajoules for 5 seconds

The JET laboratory has broken its own record. Their artificial sun actually produced 69 megajoules of energy for five seconds, with just 0.2 milligrams of fuel. This is much more than the 59 megajoules established in 2022.

On the other hand, we must keep our feet on the Earth: that is not enough in itself. This power is much lower than the daily consumption of a single household occupied by two people. The objective is in fact to reach hundreds of megajoules, and this in a stable manner, and no longer over a few seconds.

But the objective of these reactors, for the moment, is not yet to provide anything in terms of electricity, but to advance research towards this objective. This record is therefore important, a new brick. Already on the human level – because 300 scientists of different nationalities collaborated to achieve this – and on the technical level. “We can reliably create fusion plasmas using the same fuel mix used by commercial fusion power plants, a testament to the advanced expertise developed over time. », attests Fernanda Rimini, from the JET laboratory, in the press release.

Precursor of ITER

JET also serves as a precursor to even more ambitious installations, including ITER. Under construction in Bouches-du-Rhône, and involving 35 partner countries, it will be the largest tokamak ever built. Like JET, it will operate on the basis of deuterium and tritium. ITER will make it possible to test a large number of technologies by pushing energy production and reactor stabilization ever further. The project will notably be able to count on a magnetic system based on superconductivity, which should increase its capacity to generate energy for longer.

Another project, entitled DEMO and whose construction will begin in the 2030s, will succeed ITER: its objective, for its part, will be to prove that we can then transform this energy into consumable electricity.

“Our successful demonstration of operational scenarios for future fusion machines like ITER and DEMO, validated by the new energy record, inspires greater confidence in the development of fusion energy,” said Ambrogio Fasoli, head of the European EUROfusion program. .

Same observation for Pietro Barabaschi, Director General of ITER, quoted in the press release: “Throughout its life cycle, JET has proven to be remarkably useful as a precursor to ITER: in the testing of new materials, in the development of new innovative components, and especially in the production of scientific data on deuterium-tritium fusion. » Before adding that these results will have a “direct and positive” impact on ITER, by “validating the path forward and allowing us to progress more quickly towards our performance objectives”.

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