The U.K. government has called upon the local communities from different parts of the country to voluntarily contribute towards the acquisition of a site for a prototype fusion reactor. This proposed fusion reactor will be the first of its kind which is envisioned with the hope that it will improve the provision of electricity to the grid. The project, titled “Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP)” was initiated a year ago with an estimated capital cost of £222 million and a design development period of more than 5 years. According to the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), the commencement of the project will start in 2032, and plant operation is expected by 2040.

“Any new device is welcome because it brings new insights,” said Tony Donné, director of EUROfusion. Tony also suspected that STEP would not be able to immediately take place as an energy generation source. “My impression is that it will be more of a component test facility,” he remarked.

The technologically developed countries of the world are currently in a race to develop the first-ever fusion reactor which can support excessive power generation. In the fusion process, hydrogen isotopes are melded together in a super-gas compound or plasma. This is similar to the process which forms stars. In fusion reactors, the fuel sources are widely available and radiation issues are also very limited in comparison to nuclear fission reactors. However, the penetration of fusion generators in the energy mix is considered a distant dream as for the fission process, it is required to achieve extremely high temperature (up to millions of degrees). To protect the reactor walls from hot plasma, engineers are now using high-power magnets surrounding a doughnut-shaped tokamak. But it is impossible for a tokamak to generate an amount of energy which outscores the amount being utilized for heating up.

The sphere-shaped STEP is likely to have more resemblance to a cored apple instead of a doughnut. This design will ensure plasma stability allowing the reactor to maintain higher temperatures within a small device. “The small size of spherical tokamaks is a key advantage because the greatest cost in the $25 billion ITER is its gigantic magnets” stated CCFE Director, Ian Chapman when comparing STEP with ITER tokamak in France which is likely to reach the completion stage by 2025.

References:

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/12/uk-seeks-site-world-s-first-fusion-power-station
https://www.ft.com/content/7d090334-5bd7-4f4b-86d6-632fd500c229
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/02/wanted-uk-site-prototype-nuclear-fusion-power-plant

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