Initial results from the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA) new MAST Upgrade experiment at Culham point to a solution to one of fusion energy’s biggest hurdles. They have demonstrated the success of an innovative exhaust system designed to make commercial fusion devices more viable.
Fusion energy has abundant fuels and no greenhouse gas emissions. Using a machine called a tokamak, a fusion power station would heat a plasma enabling types of hydrogen fuel to fuse together to release energy that can generate electricity.
A key challenge in getting tokamaks on the power grid is removing excess heat produced during fusion reactions. Without an exhaust system that can handle this intense heat, materials will have to be regularly replaced – affecting the amount of time a power plant could operate for.
The new system, known as a ‘Super-X divertor’, is being trialled for the first time on the MAST Upgrade tokamak. It would allow components to last for much longer, which would increase a power plant’s availability and reduce the cost of fusion electricity.
Heat removal has been one of the major technical hurdles in developing fusion energy, and successful results represent a step towards achieving compact fusion power plants that can deliver abundant, low carbon electricity. Tests at MAST Upgrade, which began operating in October 2020, have shown at least a tenfold reduction in the heat on materials with the Super-X system.
Prof Ian Chapman, CEO of the UK Atomic Energy Authority
Dr Andrew Kirk, lead scientist on MAST Upgrade