For the first time, after a seven-year build, the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA)’s £55m-machine, labelled Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak (MAST) Upgrade, has achieved “first plasma” – where all the essential components work together simultaneously.
The aim of the project is for the UK to become a world leader in fusion energy and to capitalise on the potential of a clean energy source that could last for hundreds of years.
Tthe MAST Upgrade device is a landmark moment for the national fusion experiment and takes the UK another step closer towards the goal of building the UK’s first fusion power plant by 2040.
Commenting on the achievement of first plasma, UKAEA CEO, Professor Ian Chapman, said: “MAST Upgrade will take us closer to delivering sustainable, clean fusion energy. This experiment will break new ground and test technology that has never been tried before. It will be a vital testing facility on our journey to delivering the STEP fusion power plant.”
The project was funded by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research & Innovation and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.
Fusion energy offers the potential of an abundant, inherently safe low-carbon electricity supply (the raw materials are found in seawater and the Earth’s crust). It involves fusing hydrogen particles in a hot gas known as a ‘plasma’ to unlock large amounts of energy.
Operating fusion technologies requires a careful balancing act of controlling extreme heat, gas and powerful magnetic fields, amongst other complex systems.