Tokamak Attack

By Adam Fitzmaurice | footprints | June 27, 2013

A blog about a visit to the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy by several nucleargraduates and the University of Surrey.

Oxfordshire 1991:

Your mind may immediately cast itself back to the heights of rave culture and the days of the Forest Hill Pits, but in spite of all the techno and amphetamine abuse (or perhaps, in part, because of it?)  this was the scene of a significant moment in the history of man. On the 9th of November 1991, the world’s first controlled release of fusion energy took place at the Joint European Torus (JET) project near Culham. The word controlled obviously needed to be inserted into that phrase to accommodate the fact that our glorious species had already managed the uncontrolled release of fusion energy via the US/Soviet thermonuclear weapons of the 50s… Good work chaps.

Fast-forward to the present day; you’ll find that the good folks at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy are still milking everything they can out of that tungsten toroid, as well as the Mega Ampere Spherical Tokamak (MAST), which demonstrates the improved efficiency of spherical designs over the toroidal “antiques” that won’t be powering a games console near you for another 50 years. Needless to say, a visit to an institute which deals in such advanced technology may cause the labelling of that last Masters project as “research” to be considered an exaggeration of the highest order.

Now, to plough this blog full of information on nuclear fusion and a history of its research would be superfluous to many well-compiled information sources; more details on the happenings, history and high frequency pellet injector at CCFE can of course be found here.

Follow the photo-diary below to witness how our case study, a well-built gentleman with hair so fiery that it is matched only by his equally fiery love of learning, enjoyed his day:

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As with all epic journeys, this one commences with an early-start; Mr Fusion has been up since 9am! Thankfully, while the cost of fusion research is prohibitively expensive, the Costa coffee isn’t so bad (the puns are only going to get worse).

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An intriguing lecture from one of the veteran scientists at Culham was perhaps the highlight of the visit, while the tour of the facilities was a brilliant chance to get some pictures. This photo of Mr Fusion standing ahead of part of one of JET’s massive electromagnet assemblies (orange frame) is the only known photograph to contain the UK’s two most attractive objects.

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The inside of JET is fiercely radioactive and so maintenance by remote is the name of the game. Here we see Mr Fusion proudly presenting the rig on which the maintenance arm is tested. Mr Fusion’s designer stubble is said to require similarly rigorous maintenance.

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Part of being a nucleargraduate is challenging the way the energy industry thinks. For example, here we see Mr Fusion challenging the dogma that touching a poster isn’t as cool as personally entering a fusion reactor.

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Whilst Mr Fusion’s real name remains a closely guarded secret, it is common knowledge that he is a mechanical engineer and as such is terrified by the sight of all these electronic gizmos attached to MAST. MAST is much smaller than JET, presumably to allow its use in powering caravan TVs so that Liverpool fans can enjoy the Europa League whilst on holiday.

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Where other learners would have found themselves fatigued by contemplating the puzzles of nuclear fusion, Mr Fusion is ready to take it to another level… As the visit draws to a close, the smiling enthusiast dreams of the future in which the enormous potential demonstrated at this site is realised, as a clean and sustainable light for all mankind.

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Mr Fusion fills up for the ride home, wishing that he was loading the tank with deuterium and tritium. One day Mr Fusion, one day….

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