On Thursday 4th October, the Physics Sixth Form students visited the Culham Centre, near Oxford. This was a great opportunity to explore the science and engineering behind this exciting research project, which has been running since 1983.
The project involves a machine known as JET (Joint European Torus), which is essentially a large ring-shaped vacuum vessel. When operating it uses giant magnets to hold a plasma at over 100 million oC! This is ten times hotter than the Sun’s core, and the hottest place in our solar system. At this extreme temperature hydrogen atoms can fuse to each other producing helium and releasing heat energy. This process does not produce greenhouse gases or long, half-life radioactive waste like nuclear fission.
JET is one of the world’s leading nuclear fusion research projects. In recent years, it has carried out important work to assist with the design and construction of ITER; an energy project. This is a much larger scale project being built in France, which aims to be the first reactor to produce more electricity from fusion than is required to run (ten times as much). The scientists at JET think we will have fusion reactors providing electricity to the national grid by 2050-2060.
Learning about this process and impact was a unique and valuable experience for the students. They were a credit to the School and confidently asked probing questions during the guided tour, to help further their understanding of the science involved.