Scientists who were not involved in the project believed it was a significant result, but still a very long way from achieving commercial fusion power.
Researchers around the world have long been working on nuclear fusion technology, trying different approaches. The ultimate goal is to generate power the way the sun generates heat, by pressing hydrogen atoms so close to each other that they combine into helium, which releases torrents of energy.
Carolyn Kuranz at the University of Michigan called the development “very exciting” and a step toward achieving “ignition,” or when the fuel can continue to “burn” on its own and produce more energy than what’s needed to spark the initial reaction.
She said the results appeared “very promising” for ITER, a much larger experimental fusion facility in southern France that uses the same technology and is backed by many European countries, the United States, China, Japan, India, South Korea and Russia. It is expected to begin operation in 2026.
Riccardo Betti, a fusion expert at the University of Rochester, said the achievement lay mainly in sustaining the reaction at high performance levels for five seconds, significantly longer than previously achieved in a tokamak.
The amount of power gained was still well below the amount needed to perform the experiment, he added.