Japan and the European Union joined forces to unveil the JT-60SA, a significant milestone in the global pursuit of fusion energy. Hailed as the world’s most extensive and cutting-edge tokamak, it was unveiled in Naka, Japan this past Friday. Symbolizing a united effort to explore the frontiers of fusion technology, the project, aptly named “super advanced,” is set to unlock the potential of harnessing fusion technology for the benefit of humanity.
A Fusion of Cutting-Edge Technology: The Tokamak Revealed
Originating from the Russian тороидальная камера с магнитными катушками, meaning “toroidal chamber with magnetic coils,” the tokamak functions by introducing gaseous fuel into a chamber where magnetic coils propel it to high velocities. This acceleration results in the ionization of the gas, transforming it into plasma. Crucially, the use of robust magnetic fields is imperative for confining the plasma, which attains temperatures soaring to an extraordinary 300 million degrees Celsius.
A video documenting the inaugural event showcases the activation of the tokamak, with the plasma current surging to an impressive one mega ampere. The ensuing ten-second discharge generated approximately 140 cubic meters of plasma, creating a new record for the largest volume of this star-like, super-hot substance ever synthesized by human hands.
The JT-60SA: Paving the Way for Technological Advancement
The JT-60SA incorporates superconducting coils and additional hardware, elevating its capabilities. After its construction started in 2013, the project encountered setbacks, notably a delay caused by the earthquake in 2011 and a short circuit in 2021, which required the overhaul of insulation in over 100 electrical connections. Despite these challenges, the tokamak achieved a momentous feat in October 2023 by becoming the world’s largest operational superconducting tokamak after creating its first plasma.
Affirming their shared commitment, the European Union and Japan pledged support for the ongoing operations and technical enhancements of JT-60SA. This collaborative endeavor aims to provide valuable insights that will be a blueprint for future fusion reactors and a pivotal step in unlocking the latent potential of fusion energy.
The Potential of Fusion: A Cleaner, Safer Energy Alternative
The core idea behind fusion research is to replicate the Sun’s inner workings, where hydrogen particles overcome their inherent electromagnetic resistance, fuse into helium, and release energy in the form of light and heat. Diverging from nuclear fission, which entails splitting atoms and yields hazardous waste, fusion is a cleaner and safer alternative.
“The generation of fusion energy does not produce carbon dioxide – making it an important technology in the path to net zero emissions. The fusion reaction is intrinsically safe: it stops when the fuel supply or power source is shut down. It generates no high-level long-lived radioactive waste,” stressed the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Energy.
Collaborative Fusion Pursuits: Expanding Horizons Beyond JT-60SA
The JT-60SA represents just one facet of an expansive collaboration between the EU and Japan on fusion-related initiatives. This partnership extends to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project, wherein both entities play active roles. While ITER, situated in France and still under construction, targets its main reactor and first plasma in 2025, insights gained from JT-60SA tests are expected to contribute significantly to ITER’s success. Despite being roughly half the planned height of ITER, the JT-60SA’s closely mirror the plasma produced by its larger successor.