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New technology helps in science’s quest for fusion energy

CCFEA project unveiled today is aimed at helping scientists harness the potential of fusion energy, the same process that powers the sun.

Researchers hope that nuclear fusion, rather than the fission energy generated by nuclear plants today, could provide much of the world’s future electricity needs.

The University of York is a major partner in the project, which involves a £2 million upgrade to the MAST fusion energy experiment at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE). The improvements provide the world’s most advanced system for recording the temperature and density of the hot ionised gas, or plasma, inside the machine.

Led by Kieran Gibson, researchers from the university’s Plasma Physics and Fusion Group will use the upgraded system to confirm theoretical principles of plasma behaviour. Both academics and students will also be able to run experiments on MAST direct from York using a new remote control room, the only facility of its kind in a UK university.

“It is early days, and there is still work to be done to interpret the first data, but already this world-leading Thomson Scattering system is revealing tantalising glimpses of plasma physics phenomena in unprecedented detail,” said Howard Wilson, a professor in the department of physics.

Thomson scattering involves observing tiny amounts of light scattered from high power laser beams that are fired into the fusion plasma, which can be as hot as the centre of the sun. This system reveals fine details of the plasma density and temperature, shedding new light on the physics of fusion plasmas.

These scientific advances will help to further improve the performance of future fusion energy devices such as ITER, the international industrial-scale tokamak reactor being built at Cadarache, France.

“We expect the system to throw up new physics and allow us to observe effects we have never been able to see in plasmas before,” said CCFE project leader Mike Walsh.

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