Fusion team’s big advance

European scientists are to announce a significant advance in the quest to harness nuclear fusion the source of the sun’s power in London on Friday. The scientists working on the Joint European Torus (Jet) project into fusion research produced a nuclear reaction this month that briefly gave off 60% of the power needed to sustain […]

European scientists are to announce a significant advance in the quest to harness nuclear fusion the source of the sun’s power in London on Friday.

The scientists working on the Joint European Torus (Jet) project into fusion research produced a nuclear reaction this month that briefly gave off 60% of the power needed to sustain the process twice the maximum previously achieved.

Earlier tests in September at the Jet research facility at Culham Laboratories in Oxfordshire achieved 50%.

The latest tests have involved heating a plasma of the two heavy hydrogen isotypes, deuterium and tritium, to around 100 million degrees Celsius inside a magnetic field.

While the latest achievement is still less than a tenth of what will be required to sustain a self-perpetuating reaction the key to producing electricity from fusion the Jet team sees it as an important advance.

‘It’s a significant step because it means we’re beginning to produce a large number of alpha particles,’ said a spokesman.

Nuclear fusion produces these particles and neutrons in a ratio of 1:4. However, only the alpha particles can generate the heat needed to sustain the fusion process.

Sun secrets, pages 25 27