The Duke of Cambridge visited the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) at Culham Science Centre near Oxford, to see a potentially world-changing energy project.
During Green GB Week, it was a particularly fitting time to view research into nuclear fusion – the power source of the Sun – and how it could be commercialised to provide huge amounts of low-carbon electricity.
The Duke heard about the five-year project to build a machine capable of creating artificial stars and stood yards away from the MAST Upgrade chamber where, in a few months’ time, temperatures of 50 million degrees C will be created – over three times hotter than the Sun. He then ran a test of a ‘plasma’ – the hot gas that will form inside MAST Upgrade when it operates.
The UK Atomic Energy Authority runs the UK’s national fusion research lab at Culham, and its £50m MAST Upgrade device will put Britain at the forefront of international research when it starts up in 2019.
MAST Upgrade will explore whether smaller reactors – the so-called ‘spherical tokamak’ design – could make future fusion power cheaper. It will also trial a novel way to exhaust heat from the large fusion reactors that are expected to be on the grid by the middle of the century.
UKAEA’s CEO Professor Ian Chapman said: “It was a privilege to welcome The Duke of Cambridge to Culham as we prepare to start a major new fusion experiment.
“The report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last week reminded us how badly the world needs cleaner energy. We think fusion has a big role to play. The fuels are abundant around the globe, it doesn’t release greenhouse gases and it doesn’t produce long-lived radioactive waste like the nuclear fission power we have today. Building a star on Earth is very difficult – but the research is fascinating and knowing that we could change the world is a big motivation.”