By Ron Howells • 26 May 2021 • 20:14
British Scientists In World-First Fusion Power Breakthrough. image: Wikimedia
British Scientists In World-First Fusion Power Breakthrough.
The long-held dream of pollution and radiation-free electricity derived from nuclear fusion could be a step closer to reality thanks to a major breakthrough by a team of British scientists.
The crack team of researchers have developed an exhaust system that can handle the immense temperatures created during the fusion process and which so far have limited the viability of commercial fusion power plants.
Initial results from the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s MAST Upgrade experiment suggest that the world-first could mean developing fusion energy will now become much easier.
Producing electricity using a fusion reactor is still in the experimental stage but experts have said fusion energy – based on the same principle by which stars create heat and light – could be a safe and sustainable part of our energy supply in the future.
A fusion power station uses a machine called a tokamak to enable hydrogen atoms to fuse together, releasing energy that can make electricity. The problem is that fusion reactions can produce intense amounts of heat and, without an exhaust system to handle this, materials need to be replaced more often- they simply burnt out and become useless.
When the parts can no longer handle the heat this limits the operating ability of the power plant and makes energy cost more.
The system used by the MAST Upgrade experiment – the Super-X divertor – helped tokamak parts to last longer, however. Tests showed at least a 10-fold reduction in heat, a result that could make the power plants more economically viable to run, in turn reducing the cost of fusion electricity.
UKAEA’s lead scientist at MAST Upgrade, Dr Andrew Kirk, said the results were “fantastic”, adding: “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. Super-X reduces the heat on the exhaust system from a blowtorch level down to more like you’d find in a car engine.
“This could mean it would only have to be replaced once during the lifetime of a power plant. 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.”
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Ron actually started his working career as an Ophthalmic Technician- things changed when, during a band rehearsal, his amplifier blew up and he couldn’t get it fixed so he took a course at Birmingham University and ended up doing a degree course. He built up a chain of electronics stores and sold them as a franchise over 35 years ago. After five years touring the world Ron decided to move to Spain with his wife and son, a place they had visited over the years, and only bought the villa they live in because it has a guitar-shaped swimming pool!.
Playing the guitar since the age of 7, he can often be seen, (and heard!) at beach bars and clubs along the length of the coast. He has always been interested in the news and constantly thrives to present his articles in an interesting and engaging way.
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