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Ed’s note: This is not a drill! Fusion set to change our world

While my attention has been on the US presidential election (the campaign trail and now watching the results come in) another momentous event slipped my notice.

Originally published in the ESI Africa weekly newsletter on 4/11/2020

In the UK, an experimental fusion reactor successfully powered on and achieved first plasma. It’s taken us one step closer to reaching the ‘holy grail’ of energy research – and the ultimate goal of a working nuclear fusion reactor.

This step, which underwent a seven-year build of the Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak (MAST) Upgrade, proves that the components can work together to heat hydrogen gas into the plasma phase of matter.  

Nuclear fusion is said to represent a nearly limitless source of energy that is clean, safe and self-sustaining.

However, it’s a power source that has thwarted scientists and captured the imagination of science-fiction writers since its existence was, fittingly, theorised in the 1920s by UK physicist Arthur Eddington.

Considerable work lies ahead for the team working on the MAST machine, which has a price tag of £55 million. The project is operated by the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, which is part of the UK Atomic Energy Authority. It also forms part of a greater programme funded by the UK government to the tune of £220 million.

Is this a good use of public money? Well, the MAST project is the forerunner for a prototype fusion power plant, Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP), due for completion by 2040.

Harnessing this energy technology will deliver a low-carbon energy supply for many. But when fusion eventually makes a commercial entrance, will it be affordable for developing countries? How will this impact on fracking and oil in the US? Will current renewables and thermal technologies take a back seat?

These are questions that require our attention in preparation for this game-changing technology. Yes, it is 30 years into the future (as the joke goes), but I’d rather talk about it now.

Connect with me during the Digital Energy Festival for Africa or through the ESI Africa social media platforms on this topic, or other energy-related issues that have your attention today.

Until next week.

Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl
As the Editor of ESI Africa, my passion is on sustainability and placing African countries on the international stage. I take a keen interest in the trends shaping the power & water utility market along with the projects and local innovations making headline news. Watch my short weekly video on our YouTube channel ESIAfricaTV and speak with me on what has your attention.