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Brexit brings bad news for world’s biggest active nuclear fusion project

Brexit brings nuclear (con)fusion The world’s biggest active nuclear fusion project could lose EU funding just as it gears up for its grand finale. By SARA STEFANINI , 4/6/17, CULHAM, England — Just as European scientists here gear up to put decades of experiments to the test and try to bottle up the nuclear reaction that powers every star in the universe, Brexit is throwing the future of their work into doubt.

The 34-year-old Joint European Torus (JET), which sits in the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy’s retro 1960s laboratory, is a crucial part of an international research push on nuclear fusion that hopes to, one day, fuel homes and cities with energy free of greenhouse gases and waste.

Despite its location in the Oxfordshire meadows, JET is an EU venture through and through. The hundreds of scientists, engineers and technicians who visit the center to conduct experiments, as well as the parts used to assemble the world’s biggest nuclear fusion reactor so far, come from all around the Union.

Crucially, so does the €283 million that underpins the JET program for the five years through 2018. New European Commission funding, at least for 2019 and 2020, looked pretty certain — until Britain’s referendum, and London’s announcement in January that it would leave the European atomic energy community, Euratom, once the U.K. leaves the block in two years.

Talks to renew JET’s funding are now on hold, according to Culham center officials. What happens after 2018 depends largely on the outcome of Brexit negotiations.

The uncertainty could delay or even derail the JET program’s grand finale: Heating two hydrogen isotopes — heavy hydrogen (deuterium), which comes from water, and super-heavy hydrogen (tritium), from lithium — to temperatures hotter than the center of the sun.


April 7, 2017 - Posted by | technology, UK

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