JET’s 2021 fusion achievement settles a bet more than three decades old

July 18, 2022, 3:04PMNuclear News
A plaque honoring JET’s world record–setting achievement of fusion energy production of 50 megajoules in a single shot (right) and commemorating a 34-year-old bet between Goldston (top left) and Jacquinot (bottom left). (Photo: PPPL and EUROfusion consortium/collage by Kiran Sudarsanan)

A wager struck by two plasma physicists 34 years ago was finally fulfilled in June during the opening day of the 48th European Physical Society Division of Plasma Physics, when Robert Goldston, former director of the Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), virtually presented a plaque to his friend and colleague Jean Jacquinot, former director of the Joint European Torus (JET), EUROfusion's flagship fusion experiment based at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in the United Kingdom. Their bet, and JET’s record-breaking achievements in 2021, were celebrated in an article published by PPPL on July 8.

The bet: The article explains that “It was at another EPS-DPP conference in 1988 that the two men made their bet on a grassy hill overlooking the medieval city of Dubrovnik in what was then Yugoslavia and is now Croatia. The conference featured papers by PPPL and JET physicists predicting the success of their two experiments in deuterium-tritium (DT) operations on JET and PPPL’s Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor (TFTR). The wager was made at the conference dinner as they consumed ‘a fair bit of good wine,’ according to Goldston, and the rest was history.”

“The big-debated question was what machine would succeed first,” Jacquinot recalled in the 11-minute video shown at the conference. “We were both convinced that we had a good chance to do it, and obviously a bet became unavoidable.”

Goldston was then the head of physics for the TFTR, and Jacquinot the head of the radio frequency division of JET. Each believed their experiment could be the first to achieve 10 megawatts of fusion power, sustained for over one second.

Jacquinot later became the director of JET and is currently a scientific advisor to the French High Commissioner for Atomic Energy and senior advisor to the ITER director general. Goldston, a professor in Princeton University’s astrophysics and astronomy department since 1982, was director of PPPL from 1997 to 2008.

The outcome: While TFTR, which operated from 1982 to 1997, became the first fusion experiment in the world to achieve 10.7 million watts of fusion power in 1994, it was JET that achieved a world record for fusion energy production of 50 megajoules in a single shot in December 2021, satisfying the condition of sustained power for over one second.

Under the terms of the bet, which were written on a napkin that was signed, witnessed, and later lost, if TFTR won Jacquinot would provide a French dinner to the full TFTR team. Since the JET team was considerably larger, Goldston pledged to supply McDonald’s burgers to the JET staff if its tokamak won.

The cost of providing hamburger meals to the entire JET team of 1,000 people was estimated to be about $10,000. Doubting the meals would be appreciated, Goldston proposed that he instead donate $10,000 to the International Rescue Committee to benefit refugees from Ukraine, and Jacquinot readily agreed.

An honor: In their virtual meeting, Goldston presented Jacquinot and the JET team with a plaque produced at PPPL that includes a graph of JET’s record-breaking fusion pulse. The plaque reads: “In recognition of the JET team’s accomplishment of over 10 MW of fusion power production for a continuous period of over one second fulfilling the conditions of a wager between Drs. Jean Jacquinot and Robert Goldston at the 1988 European Physical Society Division of Plasma Physics Conference in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia.”

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