Post-Brexit business as usual at JET

WNN 30 November 2016

“Nothing has changed” regarding the future for the UK’s Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) and the Joint European Torus (JET), centre head Ian Chapman said today.

CCFE head Ian Chapman in the control room at JET (Image: CCFE)

The CCFE is the UK’s national laboratory for fusion research based at Culham Science Centre in Oxfordshire, where it hosts JET on behalf of its European partners. JET is the largest tokamak in the world and the only operational fusion experiment currently capable of producing fusion energy. The JET facilities are operated by the CCFE under a contract between the European Commission and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), and collectively used by all European fusion laboratories under the EUROfusion consortium.

Chapman, who is also CEO of the UKAEA, was responding to reports published earlier this week by the Financial Times and the BBC, questioning the future of the CCFE and the JET project following the UK’s anticipated withdrawal from the European Union – popularly known as Brexit. The Financial Times report described the eventual decommissioning of the JET tokamak – along with associated radioactive waste – as a “potential flashpoint” in Brexit negotiations. The BBC said many of the centre’s staff had become “extremely nervous” amid uncertainty about future financing and freedom of movement, since many of them are from outside the UK.

“In light of recent media reports (notably on the BBC and Financial Times) on the impact of Brexit for the future of JET, I would like to be clear nothing has changed regarding the future for CCFE and JET,” Chapman said. “Discussions are continuing with UK Government; they remain very positive about the fusion program and options for continued JET operation are actively being discussed. Although no firm decisions or commitments have been made, I know that the Government values the international collaboration in fusion and I remain confident for our long-term prospects.

“It is also worth noting that these discussions are helped enormously by excellent recent results on JET. Routine high heating powers and excellent machine reliability have led to plasmas with very high confinement and stored energy – by far the best results with the new Iter-like wall. This augurs very well for key experiments planned for 2019/20 using the fusion fuels deuterium and tritium, and is invaluable for the early operation of Iter.”

The Iter fusion reactor, currently under construction in France, will be JET’s successor on the route to developing commercial fusion power. Since producing its first plasma in 1983, achieving the world’s first release of deuterium-tritium fusion power in 1991, and setting the world record for fusion power – 16 megawatts – in 1997, JET has carried out much important work to assist the design and construction of Iter and remains closely involved in testing plasma physics, systems and materials for the project.

JET’s 2015-2016 experimental campaign, which ended on 15 November, included: the rehearsal of procedures for future tritium-tritium and deuterium-tritium experiments; a hydrogen campaign during which physicists learned about the dependence of plasma parameters on the mass of the hydrogen fuel used; and a high-power deuterium campaign. Upcoming campaigns will include tritium-tritium and deuterium-tritium experiments that will be crucial foundations for the operation of Iter.

Iter is currently scheduled to produce its first plasma in 2025 and start deuterium-tritium operations in 2035. Like JET, Iter will not demonstrate the use of nuclear fusion to produce electricity. That will be the objective of Iter’s successor, the Demonstration Fusion Power Reactor, or DEMO, which will aim to demonstrate the continuous output of energy, supplying electricity to the grid. According to EUROfusion, DEMO is expected to follow Iter by 2050.’

European nuclear fusion research comes under the auspices of the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) which pre-dates the EU.