Seventy years ago, at a laboratory south of Oxford, western Europe’s first nuclear fission reactor was developed. The technology, however, was commercialised abroad. Thirty years ago, the same laboratory created the world’s first controlled nuclear fusion but the international project moved to France. Now, with the backing of Boris Johnson, the Oxfordshire campus is to develop a new fusion reactor. If successful, it would offer a long promised technological panacea for climate change at relatively little cost. This time, the plan is to keep it firmly in Britain. The world’s leading fusion experiment is Iter, an international collaboration in France. By the 2030s it plans to demonstrate that fusion is possible commercially but it will be expensive. Containing a miniature sun is hard. The superheated plasma in which the fusion takes place can only be held by a magnetic field and powerful magnets require energy. Mast is an attempt to use fewer of them. Unlike Iter, which is a little like a flattened doughnut, Mast is spherical. This means less volume needs to be magnetised but the exhaust of superheated atoms is too hot to handle. The solution to be tested in the upgrade, is to use other magnets to direct the exhaust on a longer route and cool it on the way. Mr Johnson visited the project in the summer and clearly believes that it has a good chance. This week, the government announced £200 million funding to take the Mast design, which will not reach temperatures necessary for fusion, and plan how to turn it into something commercial. Other fusion scientists are cautious and say that the forces between huge magnets in a compact space could become overwhelming. The plan relies on engineering and materials that do not exist yet.
Times 5th Oct 2019 read more »
Fusion will be well worth the wait.
FT 4th Oct 2019 read more »