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Search goes on for a perfect power supply
THIRTY years ago, Michael Stamp watched as a machine was switched on in Culham, hopeful it would become the answer to the world’s energy problems.
Yesterday the 55-year-old from Didcot celebrated the 30th anniversary of what is still the world’s largest nuclear fusion project.
Scientists from across Europe gathered at Culham Science Centre to celebrate when JET – Joint European Torus – was turned on for the first time on June 25, 1983.
The reactor creates miniature stars, 10 times hotter than the Sun, as part of an ongoing experiment to find an inexhaustable supply of pollution-free energy.
Mr Stamp is an experimental physicist who has been working on the project since it began.
The Oxford Unversity PhD physics graduate said: “I remember it was very exciting, everyone was working very hard to get the first operation going.
“It was something we had to pursue because of the huge potential it has.
“It is a very exciting place here; we are at the forefront of research discovering new things all the time.
“I don’t think I will be remembered very strongly in the history of JET but I have contributed and that is a satisfying feeling.”
JET is a 30ft tall circular chamber, where atoms collide to create energy.
During the process, the temperature inside reaches 200 million degrees centigrade and creates around 10,000,000 times more energy than is released in a typical chemical reaction.
The atoms that power JET are extracted from ordinary water and lithium, a common metal found all over the world. They would therefore be able to provide the world with power for thousands if not millions of years.
The project costs £40m a year to run and is funded by the European Commission.
JET is being used to inform a larger, £11bn project being built in southern France , due to launch in 2020.
Scientists hope the first nuclear fusion power stations will be built in 2050 to feed power into the national grid.
Head of the JET department Lorne Horton, from Headington, said: “This was an enormous step forwards 30 years ago with risks involved.
“The amount it has proved has been a tremendous success. We are about to start another series of experiments and we are massively oversubscribed – people are coming from different countries.”
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