Fusion power getting closer, say UK scientists

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Fusion, which aims to harness the power of the Sun here on Earth, has long been tipped as the Holy Grail of renewable energy sources. It promises a near-limitless low carbon energy source for the long term. Scientists say it has the capability of meeting the global surge in electricity demand expected in the coming decades.

And now it could be one step closer after being showcased and discussed at COP26.

Professor Ian Chapman, UK Atomic Energy Authority CEO, said: “Fusion energy is low carbon, safe, efficient, and the fuels exist in abundance. It’s a gamechanger for our global energy future.

“I’m in no doubt that fusion will be a complementary part of the energy mix for generations to come.

“It’s one of the biggest scientific and engineering quests in history, up there with the Apollo programme, and the rewards for success will be huge for our planet.”

Fusion reactors use the most powerful magnets on the planet to contain the scorching plasma that is generated inside a fusion reactor.

The reactors work by combining light atoms of hydrogen into heavier atoms of helium – the same process of fusion that occurs at the centre of the Sun.

A race is now on to develop the world’s first commercially viable fusion reactor and the UK Government has invested a staggering £222million towards this ambitious initiative.

It comes after the Government announced the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP).

Not only does STEP aim to generate net electricity, but the site will also demonstrate how fusion plants are maintained and sustained.

The Government believes the project will create thousands of high-skilled jobs during the construction phase as well as during operation.

It has now selected five sites for new fusion plants.

These include Moorside in Cumbria, Severn Edge in Gloucestershire, Ardeer in North Ayrshire, Ratcliffe-on-Sonar in Nottinghamshire and Goole in Yorkshire.

The UK is already home to the world’s biggest and most advanced fusion reactor, the experimental Joint European Torus or JET in Oxfordshire.

JET was the world’s first device to achieve controlled fusion with deuterium and tritium.

But Britain is not the only country going at it.

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The EU and its international partners, including the UK, are working on the ITER Tokamak in southern France.

Dr Bernard Bigot, Director General of ITER and chair of the panel at COP26, said: “Fusion scientists and engineers are closer than ever to getting this revolutionary clean, sustainable energy switched on.

“Here in Glasgow, we are inviting leaders to look towards a future in which fusion is a key part of the worldwide zero-carbon energy mix.”

Alongside international collaborations, more than $2 billion of private investment has been pumped into a rapidly expanding number of innovative fusion companies.

This surge has led to fusion being classed as a critical piece of the future global energy puzzle, and complementary to other sustainable energy efforts.

Tomorrow the UK’s plans for the future will be showcased by representatives from UKAEA, University of Manchester, Max Planck Institute and Energy for the Common Good.

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