Britain plans to build the world’s first nuclear fusion power station, offering the prospect of limitless electrical power with minimal waste. The project would harness the process that powers the sun, using temperatures of up to 200m Celsius to smash atoms together and convert some of their particles into pure energy. “We are planning fusion reactors the size of a supermarket,” said Ian Chapman, chief executive of the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), which runs Jet (Joint European Torus), the world’s largest nuclear fusion research experiment, in Culham, Oxfordshire. “The UK already leads the world, and with the right investment we can build a working fusion reactor by the 2040s.” China announced last week that it also planned to build a nuclear fusion power station by the middle of the century and is training 3,000 engineers for the project. America, South Korea and Japan are working on similar schemes. Such plans are highly ambitious. Scientists first harnessed fusion power nearly 70 years ago with the development of the hydrogen bomb. Controlling such reactions to produce energy has, however, proved impossible. This is because the temperatures needed to start fusion – 10 to 15 times hotter than the sun – convert matter into “plasma”, which would melt all known materials, making it impossible to contain. The UK had been pinning its hopes for fusion on the EU’s £20bn International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter) project, under construction in southern France, but Brexit has undermined that. The threat of the UK leaving without a deal means that the EU has banned British firms and scientists from joining the project. In a no-deal Brexit, all UK contractors and staff could be kicked out next year. That has prompted a fusion brain drain: more than 60 scientists working on Iter are understood to be renouncing their British citizenship to keep their job. The UK project, now in its design stage, could halt such losses. Chapman said the UK would work with Iter and other projects if possible but Britain would also go it alone – whatever happens with Brexit. “We would like to be first,” he said.
Times 31st March 2019 read more »
Out from the pale gold sand of Provence, sheets of steel and concrete are reaching towards the sun. The people here are neither poets nor dreamers; but all are hoping to create a star on Earth. These are scientists and engineers who believe that this dusty construction site holds the world’s greatest hopes of creating limitless energy. It is here that the most advanced fusion energy project is under way. “As a scientist I have been looking for this technology for several decades,” says Bernard Bigot, head of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or Iter. “If we succeed it will be a real breakthrough for the world’s energy, not only in this century but for millions of years.” Fusion is the fundamental energy of the universe, perpetually powering the sun and stars. The extreme heat and gravity at their core cause a collision of nuclei and a violent burst of energy. The desire to recreate and control this atomic energy on earth is the stuff of science fiction and wild ambition, but the Utopian promise of the sun’s boundless energy is closer than ever before. At the Saint-Paul-lès-Durance site, Iter – meaning “the way” in Latin – is building the world’s largest fusion experiment to forge a path towards a new dawn of clean, safe, near-limitless power from 2025. The steel and concrete superstructures nestled in the hills of southern France will house a 23,000 ton machine, known as a tokamak, capable of creating an earthbound star. To recreate its fiery core without the same gravitational pull of the sun, scientists will heat a ring-shaped vacuum chamber to 270 million degrees Fahrenheit, ten times hotter than the sun’s core. Inside this chamber two types of hydrogen atoms will collide with enough force to fuse in a superheated plasma at the highest temperatures in the universe. Scientists will keep this atomic soup suspended away from the reactor walls using the force field of a magnet cage created by a coil of the world’s most powerful magnets. To withstand the heat these will be supercooled to the temperature of deep space, near absolute zero or minus 450F.
Telegraph 31st March 2019 read more »