The company behind a private fusion reactor in Great Britain announced Friday it will become partially operational next year.
The new reactor, dubbed Tokamak ST40, is being built in Oxfordshire by the a private company Tokamak Energy. The company plans to start generating the plasma necessary for fusion power sometime this fall and will reach operating temperatures early next year.
“We are unveiling the first world-class controlled fusion device to have been designed, built and operated by a private venture,” Dr. David Kingham, Tokamak Energy’s CEO, told Energy Voice. “The ST40 is a machine that will show fusion temperatures – 100 million degrees [Celsius]– are possible in compact, cost-effective reactors. This will allow fusion power to be achieved in years, not decades.”
The heart of the reactor will be a super-hot cloud of plasma expected to reach 180 million degrees Fahrenheit. That’s seven times hotter than the center of the sun.
These extremely high temperatures will simulate the conditions that cause natural nuclear fusion reactions in stars, generating an immense amount of energy. The reactor will use strong magnetic fields to keep the plasma away from its walls so that the super-hot cloud doesn’t cool down and lose energy.
“Our approach continues to be to break the journey down into a series of engineering challenges, raising additional investment on reaching each new milestone,” Kingham said. “We are already half-way to the goal of fusion energy; with hard work we will deliver fusion power at commercial scale by 2030.”
Tokamak ST40 is the company’s third upgraded reactor and should start generating small amounts of electricity in 2025.
Nuclear fusion is different from conventional nuclear energy, since fusion causes atoms to join together at extremely high temperatures to release huge amounts of energy.
Tokamak Energy says fusion technology is very safe since it breaks down when there’s a loss of cooling or control, meaning it can’t melt down. The process leaves almost no waste and wouldn’t even require hazardous fuel.
Proponents say nuclear fusion power could be “too cheap to meter,” arguing it would be too cheap and abundant to even bother measuring individual use and cost.
Tokamak Energy isn’t the only company interested in fusion. Former Google executive Mike Cassidy started his own nuclear fusion power company, Apollo Fusion, this month. Other companies have made some recent breakthroughs in fusion in the hopes of restarting the atomic age.
Scientists believe “fast ignition” could allow a fusion reaction to be controlled because it requires less “start-up” energy than other methods.
An American research team in January discovered a “fast ignition” to start up fusion reactors using a high-intensity laser, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The current problem with fusion reactors is that they are difficult to keep running.
Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works division is developing a compact fusion reactor that’s small enough to fit in a truck, but powerful enough to power 80,000 homes.