The fusion energy industry could produce a breakthrough in human history akin to the adoption of electricity.
If you want proof that the process known as nuclear fusion can produce energy at scale somewhere in the universe, you need only look at the night sky: each pinprick of light is a natural nuclear fusion-powered reactor. For decades, scientists have sought to bring the power source of stars down to Earth and, in a stunning result recently announced, the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire has reached a new landmark in sparking and sustaining a mini star.
Scientists working on a doughnut-shaped machine called Jet, or the Joint European Torus, were able to double the previous world record (set in 1997) for energy released by fusion reactions. While the experiment ran, the output of fusion power was equivalent to four onshore wind turbines – a step towards power production at an industrial scale.
In keeping with Jet’s design and objectives, less fusion power was generated than was needed to heat the fuel. In fact, no experiment has yet yielded more energy from fusion than has been used to kick off the reactions – this remains an outstanding goal of fusion scientists around the world. What the latest results provide is a compelling indication that bigger and better star machines that work similarly to Jet, such as the internationally funded Iter project now under construction in France, will be able to produce more power than they consume.
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