MAST Upgrade turns on the switch
Plasma is back inside the spherical chamber of the United Kingdom's MAST Upgrade tokamak after a seven-year campaign to upgrade the device. With its renewed capabilities, MAST Upgrade will serve as an important test bench for ITER; it will also contribute to the body of knowledge that will go into designing a fusion power plant.
In the control room of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, on 29 October 2020, the moment may have been brief but the satisfaction was immense.
During the seven-year transformation of MAST into MAST Upgrade (2013-2020), fully 90 percent of components were renewed.
First plasma for any device is the demonstration that the core of the machine has been assembled, that it is capable of sustaining plasma breakdown, and that all systems are working together smoothly.
For MAST Upgrade, first plasma marked the culmination of a £55 million, seven-year upgrade project that was undertaken in 2013 to enable higher performance on the original MAST machine—including longer pulses, increased heating power and a stronger magnetic field. Studies carried out on this spherical device will contribute a different spectrum of results to the worldwide base of physics data, which helps to predict ITER's performance.
MAST Upgrade will also investigate the important question of plasma exhaust—or how to remove excess heat from fusion machines in order to preserve materials. Its unique super-X divertor creates a magnetic configuration that spreads the heat loads at the divertor area of the machine, and could be a viable concept for fusion power stations.
Finally, MAST Upgrade is the forerunner of the United Kingdom's STEP fusion power plant, scheduled for completion in 2040. This £220 million program funded by the UK government will be based on MAST Upgrade's spherical tokamak concept.
You can watch MAST-U's first plasma shot in slow motion on the UKAEA's YouTube channel here.
If all goes according to plan, MAST Upgrade will run for 10 experimental days in December, and continue its operation in 2021. Further enhancements are planned in 2023, including extra neutral beam heating, control upgrades, and a cryoplant to manage the heat load on the divertor.
The Culham Centre for Fusion Energy is part of the UK Atomic Energy Authority and is based at Culham Science Centre near Oxford, England. MAST Upgrade was financed by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research & Innovation, and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.
Find out more about MAST Upgrade here or watch this video.
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