The investment will tackle key challenge in fusion power development
The UK’s new fusion experiment MAST Upgrade at Culham, Oxfordshire is to receive funding to tackle one of the hottest issues in fusion energy research – plasma exhaust.
The UK Atomic Energy Authority is assembling MAST Upgrade at Culham Science Centre and the device is within months of its first operations. The £21 million of plasma exhaust enhancements will be phased between now and 2022. Funding will come jointly from the European fusion research consortium EUROfusion and the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
The controlled exhaust of power and particles from a hot fusion plasma, through the ‘divertor’ area of the reactor, is arguably the biggest challenge facing a future fusion power plant using the tokamak design. The extreme power loadings (>10 megawatts per square metre – higher than that on a spacecraft re-entering Earth’s atmosphere) in a conventional divertor would require regular replacement of reactor components and adversely affect the economics and cost of electricity. Divertor and exhaust physics is therefore a major part of EUROfusion’s reactor design work as part of its EU Roadmap to the Realisation of Fusion Energy.
MAST Upgrade’s flexible divertor design is already focussed on studying a range of configurations which could solve this problem. These include the new ‘Super X’ divertor, designed to cool particles down by steering them on a longer exhaust path out of the plasma.
The plasma exhaust funding will give MAST Upgrade an unrivalled capability over the coming years by: increasing the tokamak’s plasma heating power; installing a cryoplant for the divertor; improving plasma fuelling systems; upgrading plasma control hardware and software; and adding extra diagnostic equipment for measuring plasma exhaust data.
These upgrades will allow fusion scientists to improve their understanding of plasma exhaust physics and enable better predictive modelling of this issue for the prototype fusion powerplant DEMO.
Head of MAST Upgrade Operations, Andrew Kirk, was responsible for putting together the funding bid, said:
MAST Upgrade provides a uniquely flexible test bed for plasma exhaust physics in all divertor configurations. This extra funding will enhance our capabilities even further, enabling MAST Upgrade to assess alternative divertors for use in the first fusion power plants.
Martin Cox, MAST Upgrade project sponsor, also recognised a wider benefit:
I am delighted that we have received such strong EUROfusion support for MAST Upgrade despite the perturbation caused by Brexit. This shows tremendous confidence in our facilities and people, and demonstrates that we have a very important role to play in the future European fusion programme.