Physicists make quantum jump

SCIENTISTS at Princeton University in the US have achieved initial success in an attempt to produce energy from the fusion of hydrogen atoms. The physicists heated hydrogen to 20 times the temperature of the core of the sun to produce a burst of energy equivalent to 3 million watts (MW) of power.

The experiment significantly improved on the previous record of 1.7 MW, set by scientists at a European fusion reactor. The Princeton team expects to step up the power output to 10 MW.

Energy from nuclear fusion produces negligible radioactive waste and is cheap and readily available. But scientists say it will take about 50 years for it to become a practical source of electricity.

US scientists believe that if future tests succeed and the US Congress supports fusion research, a commercial fusion power plant could begin operating by 2040. A great deal will depend on whether USA, Japan, Russia and Western Europe will cooperate in setting up an advanced fusion reactor prototype.