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UK Tokamak achieves first plasma: a milestone step towards fusion power



The UK Atomic Energy Authority is aiming to have its first fusion power plant ready in 2040.

Fusion energy, the holy grail of energy generation, has long been a target for global scientists. Differing from current nuclear plants, which use fission - a process that splits the atoms of radioactive elements to release energy - fusion combines two lighter elements to make a new one. It’s the same process that occurs in the centre of a star and could theoretically produce vast amounts of clean energy. 

And the Atomic Energy Authority have achieved a major milestone in getting there. 

An upgrade to the Authority’s Oxfordshire based Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak (MAST) has achieved first plasma. This is a significant event that involves superheating ionised hydrogen particles to a level where they can be fused together. The MAST heats and pressurises the gas to create plasma in a spherical chamber where magnetic fields can be used to control it. 

The achievement demonstrates that the components in the MAST can work together simultaneously and allow researchers to undergo further tests that can take the industry closer than ever to fusion energy. 

The MAST has been under construction for the lsat 7 years at a cost of $50 million.

Now that the machine has proved to be able to generate plasma, the next stage is to control it. Fusion would require precise control of heat, gas and magnetic fields to force the atoms to combine. But the extreme heat also needs to be safely ventilated, creating another major challenge for the Tokomak. 

As Professor Ian Chapman, chief executive of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, explains:

"The big challenge behind the spherical tokamak is that the boundary conditions behind making fusion happen is that you need the fuel to be 10 times hotter than the Sun.

"If you put that into a much smaller box... the chances of melting the walls of the box are much higher. So you need a really clever way of getting the heat out."

Researchers at Culham have designed a complex exhaust system known as the Super-X diverter. The exhaust will channel plasma out of the machine while reducing the temperatures to a level that won’t destroy the device. The next test will be to connect this exhaust and see if it can be safely used with the MAST.

"If it works, it really does offer a path to much more compact fusion power plants, in a much more cost-competitive way to delivering fusion here on Earth," said Professor Chapman.

Following the MAST upgrade, the UKAEA will be using what they’ve learned in designing the UK’s first prototype fusion power plant, known as Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP). The £220 million government funded programme is due for completion by 2040. 

“MAST Upgrade will take us closer to delivering sustainable, clean fusion energy. This experiment will break new ground and test technology that has never been tried before. It will be a vital testing facility on our journey to delivering the STEP fusion power plant.”

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Recent Comments
This will be the end on mankind and the earth as we know them now. History will be forgotten all will be lost in a matter of seconds. When you play with the power that built the universe is like teenager playing with a jar of acid and thinking its water. Sooner or latter he or she will take the lid of the top. But wont really know how dangerous it is until its too late. Many other safer ways for us all to live in peace with the food and water we need. Power is comfort control is power. Beware of the power you are playing with and planning on letting outside of your knowledge and skills and limited abilities of understanding. Do you think about your children and grandchildren futures? If you do then destroy this machine and all knowledge of it. This is a weapon of war and the war of all wars. The last war on earth and of mankind. Please listen to me and use your knowledge and skills for something greater and greener for the world our mother our protector our earth is living and giving us life. Please look after her for a future visit.
Another weapon control system , 07 November 2020
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UK Tokamak achieves first plasma: a milestone step towards fusion power - Time to read 3 min
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