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UK Fusion Experiment Paves Way for Clean, Limitless Energy

The machine took several years to develop and cost $71 million.

UK Fusion Experiment Paves Way for Clean, Limitless Energy
Interior of the MAST upgrade spherical tokamak UKAEA

A British-based fusion energy experiment has just switched on its machine for the first time, in a bid to create clean and limitless energy. 

The Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak (MAST) Upgrade machine cost a whopping $71 million (£55 million) to build over the span of several years. 

Now it's all systems go for the experimental machine, as it's achieved "first plasma," meaning all of its essential components run together simultaneously. 

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Fusion energy

Fusion energy, which is used here, offers the potential for a limitless, safe, low-carbon electricity supply, which uses hydrogen particles in plasma, a hot gas, so as to unlock energy, per the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, who is part of the project.

In order to successfully operate fusion tech, you need to carefully balance extreme heat, gas, as well as magnetic fields, amongst other components. 

UK Fusion Experiment Paves Way for Clean, Limitless Energy
Plasma in the tokamak spherical vessel. Source: UKAEA

Ultimately, fusion energy tries to replicate the Sun's process on Earth to provide energy. 

The MAST Upgrade is going to use what's known as a spherical tokamak, which is an innovative design that uses magnetic fields to confine plasma inside a vessel, per the BBC. It's this plasma that enables the light elements to "fuse and yield energy."

This moment is huge for the U.K.'s shift towards a fusion power plant, and it would be monumental as it could generate more power than what's put in to operate it. 

"We've been thinking about a pathway to fusion power plants which allowed for smaller, and therefore cheaper builds. That will hopefully allow quicker penetration into energy markets. That's the genesis behind the spherical tokamak," Prof. Ian Chapman, chief executive of the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), told the BBC.

Prof. Chapman also described the moment as "a really momentous occasion."

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