Nuclear fusion breakthrough is a scientific marvel with huge promise – Scotsman comment

For five whole seconds, scientists created a ‘mini star’ on planet Earth.

The inside of the Joint European Torus laboratory's nuclear fusion machine with superimposed plasma (Picture: EUROfusion/PA Wire)
The inside of the Joint European Torus laboratory's nuclear fusion machine with superimposed plasma (Picture: EUROfusion/PA Wire)

And, in a development that sparked global headlines, this tiny non-celestial body generated a world-record amount of energy from nuclear fusion.

It may have only been about enough to boil a kettle for half a day, but it has been hailed as a huge step towards realising the dream of almost limitless supplies of low-radiation and low-carbon electricity.

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Admittedly, the amount of energy needed to achieve this breakthrough at the Joint European Torus laboratory in Oxfordshire was more than was actually generated by it.

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However, the methods used suggest that scientists are on the right track and that, in perhaps ten, 20 or 30 years, commercial fusion reactors could start to become a reality.

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Work will now continue at the ITER facility in France to build a much larger fusion reactor, one capable of at least breaking even in terms of energy in and energy out.

Regrettably, all this comes a little too late to provide a miracle cure for climate change, and the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions dramatically by switching to renewables, electric cars and low-carbon central heating remains.

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For, as exciting and wonderful as all this really does sound, we are not there yet and cannot rely on something that does not actually exist in practical terms. To paraphrase the wisdom of one cynic, weary from too many supposed ‘breakthroughs’, “nuclear fusion is the technology of tomorrow – and always will be”.

That said, we cannot help but marvel at the extraordinary ability to harness the process that drives the sun and the heights to which science can soar.

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