UK’s Pursuit to Develop the World’s First Commercial Fusion Power Plant

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Scientists are carrying on their research to make the best use of sustainable energy across the world. There are many possibilities. The UK however moved ahead of others in the race. They recently announced a huge investment in a prototype fusion power facility that could be functioning as a commercial power plant by 2040. In nuclear fusion, the ‘fusion’ part refers to the fact that isotopes of extremely light elements like hydrogen are fusing together at extremely high temperatures and pressure, existing at the centre of the stars. Gases like Helium and Hydrogen exists as plasmas under these conditions.

The nuclei of the atoms which are being joined have to undergo a change in the way they’re put together, for making a fusion interaction possible. Isotopes, usually heavy isotopes of Hydrogen like Deuterium and Tritium are exposed to extreme conditions. A rearrangement of Helium atoms, neutrons and a huge amount of energy emerges out. For creating such extreme conditions, we need to create plasmas or take gases to very high temperatures and densities. One of the facilities called ITER(International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) is a major international fusion collaboration in progress since 1985. India, China, USA, EU, Russia, South Korea and Japan gave agreed to assist funding for ITER’s goal of producing fusion energy which could power our world. Fusion energy generates clean and unlimited energy.

UK government-funded 220 million pounds for their facility. We still haven’t achieved the point where the amount of energy produced by the fusion reaction is greater than the amount of energy required for the interaction to occur. This UK prototype fusion facility is called the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production or STEP. The total cost of this project could be on the order of billions of pounds. STEP is however making a different approach from ITER by a different kind of tokamak(a common design for the central machine of a potential magnetic fusion reactor, where the plasma is created and fusion takes place). The newly proposed UK facility will use a smaller and spherical tokamak which is expected to be cheaper.

ITER’s long-standing plans incorporate a larger doughnut-shaped tokamak, a design more extensively studied. Each of the 7 ITER partners is exploring commercial reactors on their own. Besides these efforts, the goal is to make fusion energy a reality as sooner as possible.

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