Another trip organised by the Berkshire branch of the Cambridge Society was a visit to the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy. This was not exclusive to the Cambridge Society, we populated two groups of around 10 people for the tour. There were several other groups visiting.
We arrived in bright sunshine, checked in at the gatehouse and drove to the visitor car-park. We started off with a short talk and then we were on the way to see MAST. This was a British device looking at new ways to contain the hot plasma. It was undergoing an upgrade, adding new containment electromagnets, and a redesigned device to remove the gas and debris from the fusion reaction. It was not operational and was being dismantled to fix a leak which was letting in air. Hopefully, it would be up and running in a couple of years.
After MAST we saw JET, which is still at the forefront of Nuclear Fusion research. It still holds the record for generating the most power. It also had recently been upgraded and was building up to break new power records. It is funded by a collaboration of European countries and was testing out manufacturing ideas to go into the ITER reactor in France. For instance, the robotics required to perform maintenance tasks, such as replacing the Beryllium lining tiles. When a test is run on JET, it can consume 2% of the UK national electricity supply.
I find it amazing how old these devices are, and they are continually being upgraded as the science improves. ITER will be the first Nuclear Fusion reactor which will run and test out a commercial reactor engineering build. After it has been built and tested, the first fusion reactors may enter service. This is still 30 years away so it is likely I won’t be around.
After the tour, we left in the torrential rain for the pub, The Swan in Sutton Courtney. Nice meal, and the company of some Cambridge alumni for interesting conversation.