Fusion progress in UK and South Korea

15 February 2019

First Light Fusion, which was spun out of the University of Oxford in 2011 to research energy generation using inertial fusion, has completed construction and testing of its Machine 3 pulsed power device. Machine 3 has now been fully commissioned following successful testing at the end of 2018. It is the biggest pulsed power machine in the world dedicated to researching fusion energy. Machine 3 can discharging up to 200,000 volts and more than 14 million ampere – the equivalent of nearly 500 simultaneous lightning strikes – within two microseconds. The GBP3.6m ($4.6m) machine uses 3km of high voltage cables and 10km of diagnostic cables. It uses electromagnetism to fire projectiles at around 20km/s. Machine 3 will be used to further research First Light Fusion's technology as the company seeks to achieve first fusion, which it expects to deliver in 2019. The next step in the technological development will be to achieve 'gain', whereby the amount of energy created outstrips that used to spark the reaction. Nicholas Hawker, Founder and CEO of FLF said:

"This is another major milestone for First Light Fusion. Commissioning of Machine 3 has been completed and performance has been confirmed to meet the design specification. We have now started our experimental campaigns. These will culminate in the first demonstration of fusion from one of our target designs. These targets have many elements and we are holding ourselves to a very high scientific standard, verifying operation of each element in isolation and cross-comparing with simulation predictions at all stages. We are confident we will show fusion this year. After fusion, the next phase is to show energy gain, which we aim to complete by 2024.”

He added: "In parallel we are working on the reactor concept and on the commercial aspects of the technology. Our technology is uniquely scalable and we believe we can see a clear pathway to the first reactors producing power. We must be led by the science and there is still a lot to do, but if we can find the target that works with our reactor design, fusion would not be 'always 30 years away' – we could make it happen much faster than that."

Meanwhile, South Korea’s National Fusion Research Institute based in Daejeon  said on 13 February that for the first time, their K-STAR (Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research) fusion facility was successfully able to sustain fusion temperatures at 100 million degrees Celsius for one-point-five seconds. For an energy-generating nuclear fusion reaction to occur on Earth, plasma field need to be sustained at a temperature of 150 million degrees for at least 300 seconds.  The institute says its next target is to maintain the temperature for at least ten seconds.

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