Royal visit put spotlight on MAST Upgrade

The spherical tokamak  MAST Upgrade, housed at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) is ready to start operating in 2019. And in October last year, the facility had an important visitor: The Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, visited the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy to mark the end of construction of  MAST Upgrade.

During his visit, the Duke of Cambridge heard about the five-year project to build a machine capable of creating artificial stars. He then ran a test of a 'glow discharge' – a low-temperature plasma that cleans the inside of the machine during commissioning. Although the machine is not ready for experiments yet, this was one of the first times plasma was created in MAST Upgrade and by doing so the project team achieved a significant milestone.

The Royal event drew further attention towards the experiment. Reuters followed up with a report on the scientific advances of the spherical tokamak. An article along with an explainer video discusses the improved heat exhaust system in which the plasma travels further and cools much more before contacting the wall. This approach is called a Super-X divertor. As a result, fusion experts predict that the power load can be reduced by as much as a factor of ten.

With a standard divertor, as used in JET, the heat exhaust system will have to be replaced every three years presumably. Using the Super-X divertor design might make the system last for up to 30 years now - a big step towards economically viable fusion energy. Let’s see what MAST Upgrade is going to tell us about it when it starts up next year.