JET plans deuterium-tritium fusion tests

JET are planning a new DT [deuterium-tritium] campaign aimed at trying to get maximum performance and a new fusion yield record for MCF [Magnetic confinement fusion].

As a bit of context, DT runs are a pain in the neck to run – you have all kinds of hazmat and health physics red tape so doing a DT campaign isn’t the norm – and consuming tritium is a problem as there is a finite stock on site at Culham with a facility for recovery and recycling (i.e. there is a finite number of DT shots JET can run without getting a new delivery of tritium, which is difficult and complex). That means DT campaigns are done relatively rarely.

Generally these are used to look at how population of alphas produced by fusion will drive behaviour in the plasma. Fast particles generate currents and generate micro instabilities, some good – like bootstrap current that drives better confinement, some bad. Understanding that, and how it scales, is more important to the technology development right now than seeing if you can get more neutrons out. The experiments to understand that tend to pull in the opposite direction of turning all the dials to maximum: you want to understand how individual variables affect the overall plasma scenario

Now ITER is moving forward, and they have started to run out of useful things to do with JET so running a DT campaign using everything that has been learnt since the 80’s about improved modes of confinement (like generating improved internal transport barriers etc.) means this is likely to be the next biggest test under close as live conditions you will get until ITER to benchmark tokamak performance.

It’s definitely a big thing, and probably a bigger thing than, say, the NIF break-even in the sense that the wall plug efficiency of tokamaks is way way ahead of ICF. It will help tell us if ITER will perform, and it will also start to give indications of whether DEMO will be as big and complex as ITER, or could be made smaller and cheaper.

It will be another ten years of waiting for ITER to run DT campaign with full beams.

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