Breakthrough in nuclear fusion: a step closer to an artificial sun

The latest news from the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory: a record in nuclear fusion could mark a significant advance for a sustainable energy future

A recent experiment at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), a tungsten-lined device, has achieved a major breakthrough in nuclear fusion, pushing humanity closer to creating an “artificial sun” on Earth. This innovative tungsten-coated facility has successfully contained boiling plasma at stratospheric temperatures, reaching a previously unattained duration, and promising a revolution in our energy sources.

The PPPL, which is part of the U.S. Department of Energy, has recently reached a significant milestone in nuclear fusion research. By employing an innovative tungsten-coated device, the lab managed to achieve and sustain fusion plasma temperatures near 90 million degrees Fahrenheit (about 50 million degrees Celsius) for a continuous six minutes, setting a new record for duration. This experiment produced approximately 1.15 gigajoules of energy, marking a 15% increase over previous tests, and demonstrated double the energy density.

The key role of WEST in nuclear fusion progress

At the heart of this breakthrough is the WEST (Tungsten Environment in Steady-state Tokamak), a toroidal reactor located in Cadarache in southern France. Managed by the French Commission for Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy (CEA) and supported by the CICLOP group from the International Atomic Energy Agency, WEST is designed to emulate the reactions that power the Sun. With its dimensions comparable to a small room (about 8.2 x 8.2 feet), WEST stands as an essential tool for researching clean and sustainable energy solutions.

Scientists at PPPL are focused on improving the materials used in reactor coatings, particularly tungsten, chosen for its high temperature resistance and its ability to not absorb tritium, the hydrogen isotope that fuels the fusion reaction. Initially, the inner walls of WEST were made of carbon, but this material had the significant disadvantage of absorbing tritium, compromising the reactor’s efficiency. The switch to tungsten has therefore represented a significant turning point, despite remaining challenges, such as the risk of plasma contamination by tungsten itself.

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