7 February 2022
Mrs Michelle Clayton, Head of Physics
On Wednesday 26 January, Year 11 members of the Physics Society gathered over supper to hear from scientists bringing fusion power to Earth at a UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) virtual open evening.
The UKAEA is a government research organisation responsible for the development of fusion energy. Based at the Culham Science Centre near Oxford, its mission is to lead the delivery of sustainable fusion energy, a low carbon energy supply aiming to play a part in addressing climate change.
The speakers began by explaining the need for new sources of energy generation and explained the basis of fusion reactions, which naturally occur in stars and are responsible for the energy emitted by the Sun.
The first facility we explored was JET, the world’s largest and most advanced tokamak. A tokamak uses powerful external magnetic fields to confine and control a hot plasma of fusion fuels in a ring-shaped container called a torus. It is within this plasma, no bigger than a postage stamp but heated to 150 million degrees, that the fusion reactions occur. The tokamak can create an environment similar to that inside a star but on a much smaller scale.
Since it is not possible for humans to enter the tokamak for maintenance work, any repairs must be done by remote handling systems using robotics. Culham also houses RACE, the UKAEA Remote Applications in Challenging Environments project, and it was fascinating to see images of robotic systems built for use within the tokamak and begin to understand some of the challenges faced in their design.
New technology requires new material science and the speakers also discussed the importance of the onsite Materials Research Facility. Materials must be designed to withstand extreme temperatures, magnetic fields and neutron flux if commercial fusion reactors are to be built in the near future.
This absorbing open evening enabled us to see physicists and engineers from all disciplines working together to solve the technical and theoretical problems associated with building viable fusion reactors to meet our future energy demands in a safe and clean way.
If you are interested to read more, you can visit the UKAEA website here.