UK’s MAST Upgrade achieves first plasma

31 October 2020

Photo: MAST Upgrade achieved first plasma on 29 October (Credit: UKAEA)After a seven-year build, the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s £55 million ($71m) Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak (MAST) Upgrade, achieved first plasma on 29 October, with all the essential components working together simultaneously.

UK Science Minister, Amanda Solloway, said that powering up the MAST Upgrade device is a "landmark moment" for the national fusion experiment and "takes us another step closer towards our goal of building the UK’s first fusion power plant by 2040.”

MAST Upgrade will be the forerunner of the UK’s prototype Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP), which is due for completion by 2040. UKAEA is designing STEP in an initial £220 million programme funded by the government based on MAST Upgrade’s ‘spherical tokamak’ fusion concept. The project was funded by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research & Innovation and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.

“MAST Upgrade will take us closer to delivering sustainable, clean fusion energy. This experiment will break new ground and test technology that has never been tried before. It will be a vital testing facility on our journey to delivering the STEP fusion power plant,” said UKAEA CEO Professor Ian Chapman.

One of the biggest challenges in fusion research has been to extract the amount of excess heat from the plasma. UKAEA’s scientists now plan to test a new exhaust system called the ‘Super-X divertor’ at MAST Upgrade. This system is designed to channel plasma out of the machine at temperatures low enough for its materials to withstand. The approximate tenfold reduction in heat arriving at the internal surfaces of the machine has the potential to be a game-changer for the long-term viability of future fusion power stations, UKAEA said.

MAST Upgrade will also aid preparations for the international ITER  project,now being built in the South of France, which intends to demonstrate fusion power on an industrial scale.

Photo: MAST Upgrade achieved first plasma on 29 October (Credit: UKAEA)

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