English nuclear fusion reactor restarted for the first time in 23 years

Mastering nuclear fusion promises clean, unlimited energy. Many countries have already embarked on the fusion race with extremely promising results. Now it is England's turn to restart a prototype fusion reactor that has not been used for 23 years. The researchers hope to create a plasma stable enough to help ITER in its future trials.

In less than a year, researchers will try to create a plasma hotter than the Sun inside a torus-shaped machine in the south-east of England. It will be the country's first nuclear fusion operation in the last century.

The attempt to merge two hydrogen isotopes in November at the Joint European Torus (JET) in Culham, Oxfordshire, will be the first since the facility broke the record for electricity production by nuclear fusion for less than d 'a second in 1997.

Commercial nuclear fusion holds the promise of clean, unlimited energy, but is far from being realized. So far, test projects have consumed more energy (creating the reaction) than they produce. The UK is keen to be a leader in this area, with the government having committed £ 200 million last year for a project to build a commercial power plant based on fusion.

A structurally modified reactor for a more stable plasma

JET will import fuel from Canada for the November return to service: a few grams of each of the hydrogen, deuterium and tritium isotopes over the next few months. Once fused, they will produce a plasma with a temperature of 100 million degrees Celsius, which will be held in place by magnets.

The interior of the reactor has been completely modified to resemble the internal structure of ITER. Credits: JET

There are two key differences between this year's reaction and that of 23 years ago. The most important is that the materials used inside the reactor have been modified, with carbon-based materials such as graphite, replaced by tungsten and beryllium. Carbon acts like a sponge for hydrogen, so the change should mean more hydrogen in the plasma, rather than ending up in the wall.

The second difference is the lifetime of the plasma. In 1997, the maximum output of 16 megawatts lasted only a few milliseconds before the disappearance of the plasma. The group hopes that this time the plasma can be maintained for at least 5 seconds. Whatever the outcome, Wilson says the resulting data will be vital to assist ITER in manufacturing its first plasma, which is currently slated for 2025.

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