Nuclear fusion, the ‘holy grail’ of energy, has long eluded scientists. In a fusion reaction, hydrogen plasma fuses to become helium under enormous heat and pressure, and releases huge amounts of clean, renewable energy in the process. However, this virtually limitless source of energy faces technical challenges that have thus far been insurmountable.
Scientists have said for decades that generating power from nuclear fusion is only a few decades away – this time, could it be true? Take a look inside the fusion reactors around the world that are bringing us closer to achieving the dream.
Alcator C-mod reactor, MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center, USA
Inside the doughnut-shaped vacuum chamber of the Alcator C-mod reactor at MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center © Bob Mumgaard/Creative Commons
Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor, China
The team at China’s EAST reactor inspect and adjust the device ahead of its record-breaking demonstration in June 2021 © Shutterstock
In a world-first, China’s EAST reactor managed to maintain plasma at 120,000,000°C for 101 seconds © Shutterstock
National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX-U), Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, USA
The NSTX-U reactor has been designed to create a spherical plasma, in contrast to the toroidal (doughnut-shaped) plasmas of other tokamaks © Elle Starkman/Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory
International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, France
35 nations have invested in the ITER, which is being built in France © ITER Organisation
The doughnut-shaped chamber at the heart of ITER © ITER Organisation
Joint European Torus reactor, UK
The Joint European Torus (JET) reactor in the UK is working on deuterium-tritium fusion reactions intended to sustain higher power outputs for longer © EUROfusion Consortium