Japan Makes Progress in Nuclear Research


Scientists at Japan’s National Institutes for Quantum Science and Technology (QST) recently reported progress in their ongoing research into the potential uses and benefits of nuclear fusion – a timely development given the increasing global interest in nuclear power as a potential solution to the ongoing power crisis.

Researchers at the QST’s Naka Fusion Institute to the northeast of Tokyo are in the process of preparing the JT-60SA, a massive device created for nuclear fusion experiments with the end-goal of producing high-quality plasma which can increase the amount of clean electricity generated to power the country.

Measuring sixteen meters high and weighing at least 2,600 tons, the JT-60SA is slated to go online this month, thus advancing what is considered the world’s largest and longest-running nuclear fusion experiment: the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER.)

In doing so, Japanese scientists and their counterparts from China, the European Union, India, Russia, South Korea, and the United States hope to prove that nuclear fusion is a feasible way by which carbon-free energy can be generated, thus providing a sustainable way of providing much-needed energy to cities throughout the globe.

While the JT-60SA is slated to go online soon, the multinational team behind ITER hopes to begin their fusion testing by 2035 as their original plan to finish the construction of the shared ITER plant in the south of France continues to face delays because of technical issues. For now, running the JT-60SA will provide scientists with enough data to determine how best to run ITER – a device twice the size of the Japanese fusion reactor – when the time comes.

What Makes Fusion Reactors Differ from Fission-driven Devices?

One reason why scientists continue to perform experiments in nuclear fission is the way it differs from fission-driven generation.

Fusion occurs when two atomic nuclei are merged at very high temperatures to form a single, much heavier nucleus. In this case, deuterium and tritium nuclei are used to create a single helium nucleus; the ensuing reaction will also lead to the production of a neutron.

In the case of devices related to the ITER initiative, the key approach for achieving this result is the use of tokamak devices which keep the generated plasma in a circular or spherical magnetic field.

As the individual mass of the helium nucleus is lighter than the total combined mass of the other two elements, the remainder becomes energy – something that the newly-formed nucleus needs less of. This residual energy may then be siphoned off for use.