A Mini Fusion Reactor Just Reached Temperatures Hotter Than The Sun

A private
company in the UK says it has successfully tested its prototype nuclear fusion
reactor at temperatures that are hotter than the Sun – and hopes to start
supplying energy in 2030. Called Tokamak Energy, the company is based in
Oxfordshire, UK. Their nuclear fusion device is known as the ST40, and it’s the
third machine the company has created so far.

Today the
firm revealed that it had achieved plasma temperatures of 15 million degrees
Celsius (27 million degrees Fahrenheit) inside the device.

“We are
taking significant steps towards achieving fusion energy, doing so with the
agility of a private venture, driven by the goal of achieving something that
will have huge benefits worldwide,” Jonathan Carling, the CEO of the company,
said in an emailed statement. “Reaching 15 million degrees is yet another
indicator of the progress at Tokamak Energy and a further validation of our
approach. Our aim is to make fusion energy a commercial reality by 2030.”

The company,
which has raised $40 million to date, says its small-scale approach is key to
its goals. The ST40 is about the size of a van, compared to much larger fusion
reactors seen elsewhere, which are anywhere from the size of a house to a
football pitch.

To reach
these high temperatures, the ST40 uses a process known as merging compression.
This releases energy as rings of plasma, which collide and produce magnetic
fields that “snap” together, known as magnetic reconnection.

The device
sustained a hydrogen plasma for 15 milliseconds. There are two major designs
for nuclear fusion reactors, both with the aim of twisting magnetic fields and
confining the superheated plasma inside. A tokamak does this by being shaped
like a donut and using a large current to twist the plasma. The other design, a
stellarator, is shaped like a twisted donut to achieve the same effect.

Using a more
compact design, Tokamak Energy claims it can achieve higher plasma pressures
than conventional tokamaks. It aims to control the plasma with high-temperature
superconducting magnets, and eventually start producing useful energy.

Their first
prototype, the ST25, was built in 2013. They built a second in 2015, and hope
to later reach temperatures of 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million degrees
Fahrenheit) in the ST40. In 2025 they hope to develop an industrial scale
energy device, and in 2030 they hope to start supplying energy to the grid from

Over the
past few years there have been a number of nuclear fusion breakthroughs, with
different teams sustaining hydrogen and helium plasmas for different amounts of

We’re still
a way off useful nuclear fusion reactors, but it seems we’re taking steps in
the right direction.