Japan marked a historic milestone in the pursuit of clean and sustainable energy as it successfully activated its cutting-edge fusion reactor, JT-60SA, achieving its first plasma on October 26, 2023. This remarkable achievement comes after more than 15 years of construction and rigorous testing.
JT-60SA represents the largest and most advanced fusion reactor globally, utilizing superconducting magnets to confine a scorching plasma within a doughnut-shaped chamber, known as a tokamak. This groundbreaking project is a testament to international collaboration, with the European Union’s Fusion for Energy partnering with Japan’s National Institutes for Quantum Science and Technology (QST) to develop the reactor. The primary objective of JT-60SA is to investigate the fundamental physics of fusion energy while simultaneously supporting the ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) project in France.
The reactor is designed to heat the plasma to an astounding 200 million degrees Celsius and maintain it for approximately 100 seconds, significantly longer than previous large tokamaks. This extended duration allows researchers to explore ways to control and optimize plasma stability and performance, which are pivotal in realizing the dream of practical fusion energy.
JT-60SA also plays a vital role in advancing the ITER project, which aims to demonstrate that fusion can produce more energy than it consumes. The technologies and operational knowledge validated by JT-60SA will be instrumental in ITER’s success.
Japan’s involvement in the ITER project can be traced back to a 2007 agreement with the European Union, which granted Japan the opportunity to construct JT-60SA, along with two smaller fusion facilities. In return, France was chosen as the host site for ITER, the world’s largest fusion experiment.
Even though there were many difficulties along the way to activate JT-60SA, such as a serious testing problem that caused the project to be delayed, the team’s tenacity and worldwide cooperation allowed for the achievement of this milestone. Notwithstanding these obstacles, Japan is still determined to advance its fusion research, and by 2050 it intends to construct DEMO, a power plant that will connect fusion research to commercialization.
Japan’s achievement in building the biggest nuclear fusion reactor in the world is evidence of the cooperative and unwavering efforts made to harness fusion as a clean, nearly infinite source of energy. It is a big step in the right direction to meet global energy needs, lessen our dependency on fossil fuels, and lessen the effects of climate change.