Thermonuclear energy – Obtained by fusion
Thermonuclear energy – Obtained by fusion – combining the nuclei of light elements. Under earthly conditions, it is possible to use isotopes, i.e. heavier forms of hydrogen: deuterium and tritium. The former has a proton and a neutron in its nucleus, and it is quite common in water. The second one, made of a proton and two neutrons, does not occur naturally. But it can be easily obtained from another light element – lithium.
JET (Joint European Torus)
Tritium is used in experiments at JET (Joint European Torus). Which is near Oxford, UK. It is a tokamak reactor – a bagel-shaped chamber in which the hot gas, i.e. plasma, will be trapped by the magnetic field. It must reach enormous temperatures, on the order of 100 million degrees Celsius, for the thermonuclear reactions to begin. – We have come to the point where we can try out in practice what we have been preparing for years. – explains Dr. Joelle Mailloux, co-leader of the JET science team.
This is the first major experiment with tritium since 1997. Because the use of this isotope as a fuel, along with deuterium, increases the level of radiation in the reactor. All the equipment had to be adapted to the new working conditions. It took two years. – Once the research begins, the inside of the reactor will be too dangerous for humans to enter. Everything must work or be repairable remotely, as on an unmanned spacecraft – says Prof. Ian Chapman, head of JET.
If successful in the UK trials, they will open the way to efficient and relatively clean energy production. One gram of hydrogen “burned” in a fusion reactor can yield as much as 8 tons of crude oil or 11 tons of coal. A few hundred kilograms of deuterium and tritium per year would be enough to meet the energy needs of the whole world. Relatively little radioactive waste is also expected to be generated in fusion reactors.
ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor)
The results of the JET experiments will be used in the development of ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor). This is a huge reactor under construction in Cadarache, France. Funded by the European Union, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the USA at a cost of $ 22 billion. The first launch of ITER is scheduled for 2025, 10 years later the reactor is to run on a mixture of deuterium and tritium. If all goes to plan, it will be the first plant to get more energy from fusion than was needed to initiate it.