PRINCETON, N.J. -- A world record for the production of nuclear fusion power was set last night by a team of physicists at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.
The record was set when an experimental fusion reactor produced at least 3 million watts of power -- far exceeding a European record set in 1991.
"Congratulations on a job well done," said Richard J. Hawryluk, head of the experimental project, as a crowd of physicists applauded.
The world record came on the first night of a landmark series of experiments that scientists said could play a crucial role in determining whether nuclear fusion becomes a key source of energy in the 21st century.
"We're on our way," said Dale Meade, deputy director of the Princeton lab.
The experiments began earlier in the night when a team of scientists working inside a control room on the James Forrestal campus, about three miles from Princeton University, fired up a fusion reaction inside an enormous metal doughnut. Their experiments were to continue today. If all goes well, they will achieve their goal of 5 million watts of fusion power by the end of this month.
When the experiments are completed next September, they hope to have generated as much as 10 million watts of power from nuclear fusion. This is enough electricity to power 100,000 100-watt light bulbs.
But setting world records is not the point. The goal is to show, for the first time, that a fuel made of equal parts of deuterium and tritium can produce fusion power. Some scientists think these two chemicals will be the fuels of the future
Nuclear fusion is the same reaction that powers the sun.