Two UK companies target nuclear fusion reactor by 2030

3 Jan 2020

Image: © flashmovie/

This week in future tech, two small companies in the UK think they’re within a decade of achieving stable nuclear fusion in a reactor.

The Financial Times has reported that two UK start-ups believe they are close to cracking stable nuclear fusion; a move that would unlock clean, cheap and near-limitless energy by creating a miniature sun in a reactor.

Tokamak Energy and First Light Fusion have separately set the goal of having a working reactor by 2030, which is 10 years before the state-backed UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) plans to reach that target with its new research centre.

Both companies are developing their reactors based on the tokamak design that originated in the Soviet Union in the 1950s.

Tokamak Energy’s executive vice-chair, Dr David Kingham, said in an interview that despite the 2030 target, it will aim to generate fusion power by 2025.

“We envisage having a 150MW device that we can license to people who are good at building power plants,” he said.

Meanwhile, First Light Fusion is working towards achieving its first fusion demonstration early this year, with hopes for achieving ‘gain’ – where more power is produced than is used to turn on the reactor – by 2024.

Russia deploys its first hypersonic missile

Russian president Vladimir Putin announced that the country has deployed its first hypersonic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead at 27 times the speed of sound. According to The Guardian, the missile can hit anywhere in the world and can avoid the most advanced anti-missile technologies.

The Avangard missile was unveiled in March of last year, but unlike a traditional intercontinental missile, the hypersonic version can make sharp manoeuvres to avoid being shot down.

It can carry a two-megaton nuclear warhead and in testing it accurately hit a practice target more than 6,000km away. The missile is made from composite materials capable of withstanding temperatures of up to 2,000 degrees Celsius, which can occur at hypersonic speeds.

Last November, US inspectors witnessed a demonstration of the Avangard as part of the transparency agreement of the New Start nuclear arms treaty.

Third gene-edited baby born in China

Chinese media has confirmed the controversial birth of a third gene-edited baby following experiments conducted by researcher He Jiankui. He drew criticism both in China and internationally for going against established ethics to edit the genes of embryos using the tool CRISPR.

In November 2018, He admitted that in addition to the pair of twins born with the edited genes, a second woman carrying a third gene-edited baby was also due to give birth. Now Xinhua appears to have confirmed the existence of a third baby, as Chinese authorities sentenced He to three years in prison with a $430,000 fine for the work he conducted secretly.

The report does not reveal any information on the third child, only mentioning that three gene-edited babies were born.

Eye-tracking glasses for researchers unveiled

A US company called Biopac Systems has unveiled a pair of eye-tracking glasses designed for researchers who conduct experiments with mobile participants in diverse locations. It said the glasses’ wireless systems and software allows researchers to collect and analyse real-world eye tracking data from subjects in the lab, in the field, at work, playing a sport, or anywhere their research takes place.

The glasses contain miniature eye cameras that view each eye, a scene camera that views the scene in front of the participant, a microphone and a controller. The glasses can be worn over prescription eyeglasses and are mobile and portable.

“Whether you are improving usability or studying operator fatigue, augmenting physiology data with eye tracking data allows researchers to easily pinpoint ergonomics issues and design flaws so manufacturers can build better and safer products,” said Biopac CEO Frazer Findlay.

“Imagine a pilot or a heavy machine operator whose shoulder hurts from a repetitive motion. Inevitable fatigue might lead to an injury or mistakes.”

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Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic