Sun Jun 06 2021
Commercially viable fusion power comes a step closer thanks to UK researchers
Researchers at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy have reported they may have solved the problem of heat exhausts for fusion power plants… bring the reality one step closer.
The CCFE (Culham Centre for Fusion Energy) in Oxfordshire have released results from their MAST-U (Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak - Upgrade) nuclear fusion experiment, claiming they’ve developed an exhaust system that can deal with the truly immense temperatures generated in the fusion process, reducing the exhaust heat load by ten-fold.
The MAST-U device at the CCFE is a £55m device that went into operation last October, based on the original MAST machine that ran of 1999 to 2013.
Since then, it’s gone through various upgrades to add new diagnostic tools, new power supplies, longer pulses, a stronger, more stable magnetic field, improved heating power and a cutting edge plasma exhaust system.
All of these upgrades were completed late in 2019 and then, during 2020, scientists working on the project managed to achieve the first plasma of deuterium within MAST-U.
According to the team working on the project, MAST-U focuses on plasma exhaust, a problem that needs to be solved if commercially viable fusion power is ever to become a reality.
If an effective exhaust solution isn’t found then the excess heat will damage materials inside the reactor, massively limiting the time it can be operational in any one instance.
MAST-U is the first tokamak (magnetic plasma confinement device) that has tested the 'Super-X divertor'.
That’s an exhaust system especially designed to deal with the excess heat produced by fusion reactions. Early results show that the Super-X divertor system incorporated in MAST-U has reduced that exhaust heat load ten-fold.
The team involved in the project are now hopeful that the system will allow components in future tokamaks to last exponentially longer, massively increasing the amount of time a power plant can stay online whilst also reducing the cost of fusion electricity.
These are fantastic results. They are the moment our team at UKAEA has been working towards for almost a decade. We built MAST Upgrade to solve the exhaust problem for compact fusion power plants, and the signs are that we've succeeded. It's a pivotal development for the UK's plan to put a fusion power plant on the grid by the early 2040s - and for bringing low-carbon energy from fusion to the world.
Sun Jun 06 2021