A nuclear fusion device pushes plasma to a record-breaking 100 million degrees

We're edging closer to commercially viable nuclear fusion.
Chris Young
Tokamak Energy ST40.Tokamak Energy

U.K.-based nuclear fusion firm Tokamak Energy says it broke a world record in nuclear fusion by achieving a plasma temperature of 100 million degrees Celsius (180,000,032 degrees Fahrenheit).

This, the company says in a press statement, is "the threshold required for commercial fusion energy."

The company's privately-funded ST40 spherical tokamak was built to test nuclear fusion, the reaction the Sun and stars use to produce energy. Fusion occurs when two atoms smash into one another to form a heavier nucleus, releasing enormous amounts of energy.

The promise of limitless, sustainable energy 

For years, companies have been trying to harness this process to provide practically limitless sustainable energy here on Earth. Now, Tokamak Energy says it has brought us one crucial step closer to achieving this goal.

The company explains that it achieved by far the highest temperature ever achieved in any spherical tokamak — the type of reactor required for nuclear fusion. Several government-backed laboratories throughout the world have already reported 100 million degrees in conventional tokamaks, including South Korea's KSTAR reactor and China's "artificial sun" EAST tokamak reactor. However, Tokamak Energy points out that its achievement was carried out with a "much more compact fusion device." The company also highlights the fact that its milestone was achieved in only five years, at a cost of less than £50 million ($70m).

"This achievement further substantiates spherical tokamaks as the optimal route to the delivery of clean, secure, low cost, scalable, and globally deployable commercial fusion energy," Tokamak Energy explains in its statement.

A.I. could help to harness the power of the stars

Tokamak Energy says it carried out the new plasma measurements using over 25 advanced diagnostic tools incorporated into its ST40 spherical tokamak. It also says the results were verified by an independent advisory board made up of international experts.

The company explains that it will now upgrade the ST40 to test other new nuclear fusion technologies. The ST-HTS, it says, will be the world's first spherical tokamak built to demonstrate the full potential of high-temperature superconducting (HTS) magnets, and it will be commissioned at some point in the mid-2020s. All of this will inform the design of a world-first fusion pilot plant estimated to start operation in the early 2030s.

Another U.K.-based firm, the Google-owned DeepMind, recently announced it was using machine learning A.I. algorithm to help control superheated plasma in collaboration with the Swiss Plasma Center at EPFL. If all goes to plan, we may actually tap into the potential of these artificial suns within the next decade, allowing the world a new crucial tool to help mitigate the worst effects of the climate crisis.

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