The UK has invited local communities to volunteer for the UK’s first nuclear fusion reactor. Although many years after its completion, a fusion reactor will provide almost unlimited power while producing minimal waste, it has long been sought after by scientists around the world.
The STEP program is an ambitious effort to build a prototype fusion plant, with £222 million still allocated to begin development. Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) will use the latest in prototype fusion technology. The team hopes to start construction in 2030 and achieve this power generation capacity by 2040.
Business and Energy Secretary Alok Sharma said in a statement, “We want the UK to be a trailblazer in the development of fusion energy that can sustain for generations to come, holding on to its incredible potential as a source of unlimited clean energy.”
“Communities across the country have an incredible opportunity to secure their place as STEP’s home in history books, helping the UK becomes the world’s first country to commercialize fusion and create thousands of highly skilled jobs to drive our green industrial revolution.” The deadline for community applications is March 2021 – so who knows, tokamak could be built in a town near you in the future.
Nuclear fusion energy is considered one of the most promising alternatives for greater clean energy. There are currently 440 nuclear reactors worldwide that use isolation reactions to generate electricity – it splits an atom into two smaller nuclei, releasing energy that can be used to turn water into turbines.
These reactions occur regularly in the Sun and other stars but require intense conditions – about 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million Fahrenheit) in the case of hydrogen fusion. It turns out that reaching this temperature is not an easy feat. Nuclear fusion is virtually the opposite. Instead of splitting an atom, a fusion is a combination of two atoms to form a heavy nucleus that results in a huge amount of energy.
The best opportunity for nuclear synthesis is in a tokamak, currently. Tokamaks are a device that produces plasma through extreme heat and limits plasma using strong magnetic fields. According to Science Magazine, Fusion reactors require fuel that is more readily available than fusion reactors and has very little concern for uncontrolled radiation.
The dream of nuclear physicists is to provide the so-called “cold fusion”, where fusion reactions are created at low temperatures, theoretically providing near-limiting energy, but this idea has proved much more difficult to realize than previously thought. Unfortunately, as surprising as the terms “free clean energy” are, fusion reactors are still far from commercial use. Creating the intense temperature required for synthesis is extremely costly, so much so that the value of the energy produced cannot be spent with current technology.
This week has been several weeks for Fusion Energy, with the UK announcing their plans and China launching their Fusion tokamak, affectionately referred to as an artificial sun. So far no tokamak has been able to produce sustainable amounts of energy for exaggerated costs.
The UK is moving forward with its Step program. Fusion research has so far raised 1.4 billion in the economy and the UK is hopeful of leading the way in the production of fusion power – whenever it can, for now.