Fusion or Confusion? UK to be FIRST country to roll out nuclear fusion power plants, say experts

Express SEAN MARTIN, Feb 15, 2016

tokamak interior

The interior of a nuclear fusion reactor

THE UK will be the first country to roll out nuclear fusion power plants in what will be a massive boost to the economy, a leading expert has said.

Scientists in China made the headlines at the beginning of February when it was revealed that they successfully produced hydrogen gas more than three times hotter than the core of the Sun.

Crucially, the scientists were able to maintain that temperature -50 million degrees celsius – for 102 seconds.

Scientists are hoping to reproduce the same process which occurs in the sun

Scientists are hoping to reproduce the same process which occurs in the sun

The experiment means nuclear fusion experts are a step nearer to replacing depleting fossil fuels with limitless nuclear energy powered by the ultra-high temperature gas.

This was followed by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP) in Germany, who used an experimental nuclear fusion reactor called the Wendelstein 7-X stellar fusion device to create hydrogen plasma – a step in the right direction to nuclear fusion.

However, despite the impressive feats in these respective countries, one of the UK’s leading researchers in the field has said that it will be us who makes the major breakthrough.

germany plasma IPP

The plasma made in Germany

Dr David Kingham, CEO of Tokamak Energy – a leading company in the production of tokamak machines which are devices used to produce nuclear fusion – told Express.co.uk that the UK “really ought to” roll out nuclear power plants first.

Dr Kingham said: “We have the world leading device here at Culham Laboratory – the Jet Tokamak.

“It still holds the record for producing the most power at 16 megawatts and Tokamak Energy is based here – partly because of the history history of fusion research at Culham, and partly because of the cluster of activity in superconducting magnets.

“We think we could get first production of [nuclear fusion] electricity by 2025 and then energy into the grid might be a further five years.”

The Oxfordshire-based CEO goes on to say that this will create a booming industry in the country.

Dr Kingham: “At the moment there are about 1000 people employed in southern England in fusion, mainly supplying publicly funded research.

“But we’d be talking about many tens of thousands employed in the future if we can get a technology that will roll out to large scale deployment.”

tokamak uk

A Tokamak Energy machine

He adds that although the achievements in China and Germany are impressive, they’re not the future of nuclear fusion.

Dr Kingham continued: “The Wendelstein device in Germany is a big scientific achievement but it’s a very complicated and quite large device that has taken more than 10 years to build.

“Great science, and there will be more great science from it over the next few years, but I think to many people it doesn’t look like a route to fusion energy.

dr. kingman

Dr David Kingham

“The East Tokamak in China uses a conventional low temperature superconductor and they achieved 100 seconds plasma, setting a record.

“Again it’s great science and great deployment of the technology, but we think the next generation of superconductors are going to be required to make the breakthrough to fusion power and these were a new type of high temperature superconductor will enable to us to have more compact Tokamak devices.”

Dr Kingham says that electricity will be in the National Grid as a result of nuclear fusion by 2030, and hopes that a couple of decades later it will be our main source of energy.

He said: “Potentially it could be a major source of electricity by 2050 and we’re going to need something because the climate change problems are not going to go away and by 2050 we really need new clean, green electricity.

“Fusion needs to be very firmly there as one of the most exciting options for future electricity supply.”