Thermonuclear energy – Obtained by fusion

Thermonuclear energy - Obtained by fusion

Thermonuclear energy – Obtained as a result of fusion – combining atomic nuclei of light elements. In earthly conditions, it is possible to use isotopes, i.e. heavier types of hydrogen: deuterium and tritium. The former has a proton and a neutron in its nucleus, and is quite common in water. The second one, made of a proton and two neutrons, does not occur naturally. But it can easily be made 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 donut-shaped chamber in which a magnetic field traps a heated gas, i.e. plasma. It must reach enormous temperatures, of the order of 100 million degrees Celsius, for thermonuclear reactions to start. – We have reached the point where we can test in practice what we have been preparing for for years. – explains Dr. Joelle Mailloux, co-leader of the JET science team.

This is the first such large experiment with tritium since 1997. Because the use of this isotope as a fuel together with deuterium increases the radiation level in the reactor. All equipment had to be adapted to the new working conditions. It took two years. „Once research begins, the reactor interior will be too dangerous for humans to enter. Everything must work or be repairable remotely, like on an unmanned spacecraft” – says prof. Ian Chapman, head of JET.

If successful, the trials in the UK will pave the way for efficient and relatively clean energy production. One gram of hydrogen “burned” in a fusion reactor can give it as much as 8 tons of crude oil or 11 tons of hard coal. A few hundred kilograms of deuterium and tritium would suffice a year to meet the energy needs of the entire world. Thermonuclear reactors are also expected to produce relatively little radioactive waste.

ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor)

The results of the experiments in JET will be used in the creation of ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor). This is a huge reactor being built in Cadarache, France. Financed by the European Union, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the USA at the cost of USD 22 billion. The first launch of ITER is scheduled for 2025, 10 years later the reactor is to operate on a mixture of deuterium and tritium. If everything goes according to plan, it will be the first installation to obtain more energy from thermonuclear fusion than was needed to initiate it.


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