Japan welcomes the world's largest nuclear fusion experiment, introducing the cutting-edge JT-60SA reactor, a collaborative project between the European Union and Japan.
Located in Naka, north of Tokyo, the JT-60SA is a gigantic, six-storey-high machine, differing significantly from the current nuclear power plants which use the fission method. The mission of this experimental reactor is to explore the viability of fusion as a vast, safe, and carbon-neutral net energy source.
Ahead of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor
Marking an innovative step forward, the JT-60SA is seen as a precursor to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), presently under construction in France. Each of these projects is on the path to mastering the process of fusing hydrogen nuclei into heavier helium, a process that releases energy in the form of light and heat.
Despite the promising potential, the ITER project has experienced some significant setbacks, grappling with budget overruns, delayed schedules, and major technical challenges.
Inauguration and International Reception
The inauguration of the JT-60SA reactor drew a significant crowd, with over 500 scientists, engineers, and representatives from more than 70 companies attending. This event didn't go unnoticed on a global scale either, with Kadri Simson, the EU energy commissioner, praising the JT-60SA as “the most advanced tokamak in the world,” and acknowledging its operations as a “milestone for fusion history.”
Fusion’s Future Potential
Fusion could well be the answer to our future energy needs, with the potential to emerge as a key player in the energy mix in the latter half of this century. Notably, a “net energy gain” has been achieved before through fusion, this occurred in December at the National Ignition Facility in the US. Rather than using the tokamak method, it used a different technique known as inertial confinement fusion.
Unlike the risk of catastrophe associated with nuclear fission, fusion carries no such concerns. Additionally, it generates significantly less radioactive waste, further cementing its place as a potential game-changer in the world of energy.