Sixth Form scientists were lucky enough to have a trip to visit the JET fusion lab in Abingdon near Oxford recently. JET – the Joint European Torus – is the largest fusion generator in the world. It is part of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy which is funded through an international consortium working towards clean plentiful energy for the whole planet.
Fusion in its simplest form is the mechanism that powers the Sun. Hydrogen nuclei are squeezed together at immense temperatures and pressures to generate energy, all governed through Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc2. What scientists at JET are doing is replicating this process using two forms of hydrogen, deuterium and tritium, and lithium.
The Sixth Form learnt about the energy stored within the atom. Did you know that just half a bathtub of water and 1 lithium laptop battery contains enough energy to meet the energy needs of Mr Average for 30 years using fusion!
A guided tour of the lab at JET provided a fascinating insight into life in a working laboratory. More than 600 scientists and engineers work at Culham, each with their individual specialisms. The Sixth Form had a close up view of the JET training model, a life size model of the fusion generator which is used for training with the robotic arms that go inside the generator. They also viewed the control room, engineering bays, component handling, computer banks and had a talk in the robotics control lab. Finally, the students caught a glimpse of JET itself through it two sets of 900 tonne shield doors.
JET is engineering and innovation on a massive scale which was awe inspiring to see. However, JET is purely a prototype and testing facility for the ITER generator currently being built in France. ITER, due to start fusion in 2025 is the first generator expected to give a positive power yield and prove this new technology is the solution to the fossil fuel crisis. Hopefully some of our Sixth Form will go on to be a part of this in the future.