In ITER, magnetic fusion will explore the burning plasma regime. Because such burning plasma is sustained by its own fusion reactions, alpha particles need to be confined (Hazeltine 2010 Fusion Eng. Des. 7–9 85). New experiments using d(3He,p)α and d(d,p)t fusion reaction products were performed in JET. Fusion product loss was measured from MHD-quiescent plasmas with a charged particle activation probe installed at a position opposite to the magnetic field ion gradient drift (see figure 1)—1.77 m above mid-plane—in the ceiling of JET tokamak. This new kind of escaping ion detector (Bonheure et al 2008 Fusion Sci. Technol. 53 806) provides for absolutely calibrated measurements. Both the mechanism and the magnitude of the loss are dealt with by this research. Careful analysis shows measured loss is in quantitative agreement with predictions from the classical orbit loss model. However, the comparison with simulated loss radial profile, although improved compared with previous studies in TFTR, Princeton, US (Zweben et al 2000 Nucl. Fusion 40 91), is not fully satisfactory and potential explanations for this discrepancy are examined.