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Brit fusion magnets set for US gamma ray bombardment test

Tokamak Energy off to Albuquerque desert to douse kit in radiation

UK fusion company Tokamak Energy claims to have made a breakthrough in fusion magnets – and is prepared to test its technology at a US gamma ray facility in the desert.

The Oxfordshire-based company has developed magnet technology it hopes will be able to withstand the electromagnetic bombardment from a fusion reaction while being capable of holding reaction in place.

Nuclear fusion relies on combining lighter chemical elements into heavier ones, releasing unprecedented weight-for-weight energy compared with fission and chemical reactions. During the process, engineers need to hold hydrogen fuel in place with powerful magnets. If the process is ever to be industrialized, these magnets must also be resistant to the powerful gamma rays fusion reactions emit.

At its Oxfordshire headquarters, Tokamak Energy, which is collaborating with the UK government's nuclear fusion program, has built a specialist gamma radiation cryostat system, designed around a vacuum device which insulates the magnets from fusion energy.

The system is now set to be disassembled, shipped, and rebuilt at the Gamma Irradiation Facility based at the US Department of Energy's Sandia Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Tokamak Energy said Sandia was one of the few places in the world capable of housing the system while exposing the company's superconducting magnets to gamma radiation comparable with the expected emissions of a fusion power plant.

Tokamak Energy development manager Rod Bateman said: "Our pioneering magnet technology must withstand extreme conditions to keep fusion power plants running in the future. The specialist Sandia Laboratory is ideally configured to test magnet durability and performance when exposed to gamma radiation. It is essential to push the boundaries now as we scale up our operations towards commercial fusion."

Research and analysis on sets of individual magnets will run for six months at the New Mexico facility, which is so powerful it can do a 60-year lifetime test in just two weeks, Tokamak Energy said.

The company recently signed an agreement with UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) to jointly develop technology, and share resources and equipment for the development of a Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP).

In February, the government set up a delivery body tasked with building a prototype fusion energy plant to be sited at West Burton in Nottinghamshire, where it expects to build the first STEP system.

Tech billionares have invested heavily in fusion: Open AI's CEO Sam Alton has sunk $375 million into nuclear fusion startup Helion; Bill Gates and Marc Benioff helped fund Commonwealth Fusion Systems; and Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla has backed Realta Fusion, a spin-out from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. ®

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