Experimental nuclear fusion reactor surpasses sun’s core temperature

8 Jun 2018

The ST40 reactor operated by Tokamak Energy. Still from ‘ST40 Update April 2017’. Image: Tokamak Energy – A Faster Way to Fusion/YouTube

A huge milestone was achieved in the development of a nuclear fusion reactor as a UK-based device passed 15 million degrees Celsius, making it hotter than the sun’s core.

The past few years have seen some major leaps in nuclear energy, potentially offering the world a cost-effective, near-limitless and safe source of clean energy.

Notable breakthroughs include efforts by a team of physicists from Colorado State University that achieved record efficiency in a microscale nuclear fusion reactor, as well as Princeton University finding a means to use artificial intelligence to make reactors more stable.

Now, a company called Tokamak Energy in the UK has revealed that its compact spherical tokamak reactor, dubbed ST40, has achieved a major milestone in surpassing plasma temperatures of 15 million degrees Celsius.

In doing so, it has actually surpassed the temperature of the sun’s centre and could pave the way for the company producing industrial-scale energy by 2025.

However, despite this seemingly impossible feat, a functioning reactor to satisfy world demand will need to achieve plasma temperatures significantly hotter than this, somewhere in the region of 100 million degrees Celsius.

‘The world needs abundant, controllable, clean energy’

The ST40 is also more of a testing ground for nuclear fusion energy as it cannot achieve net energy gain, the stage when a reactor would produce more energy than is being put into it, which is what all nuclear fusion researchers are aiming towards.

Regardless, the breakthrough achieved by Tokamak Energy is very promising as it works towards the 100 million degrees Celsius target, close to fusion energy gain conditions, thereby completing the third stage in a five-stage process to commercially available nuclear fusion power.

“The world needs abundant, controllable, clean energy,” said the company’s co-founder, Dr David Kingham. “Our business plan is built on strong scientific foundations, and this milestone is a significant step in our compact spherical tokamak route to fusion power.”

He continued: “Fusion is a major challenge, but one that must be tackled. We believe that with collaboration, dedication and investment, fusion will be an important part of achieving deep decarbonisation of the global energy supply in the 2030s and beyond.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic