New developments for UK nuclear

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Two small private British companies are aiming to develop working nuclear fusion reactors that can be commercialised by 2030, a time scale ten years in advance of the UK’s state funded fusion programme.

The two companies, Tokamak Energy and First Light Fusion, are both based in Oxfordshire and have attracted tens of millions of pounds in investment.

The developments are part of a quest to develop near zero carbon emission electricity generation from nuclear fusion, the reaction that drives the sun. If the technology can be successfully harnessed on a commercial basis, it has the potential to greatly reduce carbon-based emissions from electricity generation in the future.

2 very different styles

The two companies are developing different approaches to the challenge. Tokamak Energy is developing a spherical tokamak design (rather than a doughnut shape), using high temperature superconductors (HTS) made from rare earth barium copper oxide to provide the conditions needed for fusion to occur.

Rather than confining reactants using strong magnetic fields at very high temperatures in the millions of degrees, First Light Fusion’s technology is based on advanced implosion processes to produce the high temperatures and compression needed.

Ultimately very high temperatures of over 100 million degrees are needed for fusion using hydrogen isotopes to occur.

The United Kingdom atomic energy authority is developing its Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production design programme, following £220m of government funding announced late last year, which aims to have a commercially viable fusion reactor by 2040.

Energy expert view

“It is very encouraging to see private sector energy innovators taking on the immense engineering challenge of developing nuclear fusion technology towards potential commercial application.

“The prize of cost effective, very low carbon electricity is great and perhaps it can become a reality in the near future.” Alastair Fells MEI, Incorporated Eng, PG Dip Fuel Tech, BSc Hons

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