Solving one of Nuclear Fusion’s Biggest Problems

The new Super-X divertor could be a game-changer for creating fusion power plants that can deliver affordable, efficient electricity.

Initial results from the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA) MAST Upgrade experiment indicate the effectiveness of an innovative exhaust system designed to make compact fusion power plants commercially viable.

Fusion energy is based on the same principle by which stars create heat and light. The reactor superheats a gas, which forces electrons out of the atoms within the gas and creates a plasma. This plasma is contained by a powerful magnetic field created by a device called a tokamak.

At such high temperatures, the nuclei within the plasma are free to smash together. This fusion releases huge amounts of energy that can generate electricity.

A key challenge in getting tokamaks on the electricity grid is removing excess heat produced during fusion reactions. Without an exhaust system to handle the intense heat, materials will have to be regularly replaced, significantly affecting the amount of time a power plant could operate for.

But a recent experiment suggests the new system, known as a Super-X divertor, would allow components in commercial tokamaks to last much longer. This would greatly increase the power plant’s availability, improving its economic viability and reducing the cost of fusion electricity, researchers say.

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