Nuclear fusion power plant plan reaches 'major milestone'

Orange sun in black sky
Nuclear fusion is the process that gives the Sun its energy [Getty Images]

A company says it has reached a "major milestone" in its quest to design a power plant capable of producing energy from nuclear fusion.

First Light Fusion, in Yarnton, Oxfordshire, has increased the distance a projectile is fired into the fuel by more than ten times.

The company says the development is crucial to its design for a commercial power plant.

Mila Fitzgerald, a scientist at the company, called it an "exciting step".

Nuclear fusion works by heating and forcing tiny particles together to make a heavier one which releases useful energy.

First Light is pursuing a new form of fusion by compressing a target containing fusion fuel, using a projectile travelling at high speed.

The challenge is to be able to launch a projectile accurately, while keeping it in a solid state when it hits the fusion fuel - which is a crucial part of Fusion Light's power plant design.

A man in a blue shirt and short brown hair
Dr Nick Hawker is First Light Fusion's CEO [BBC]

As part of its experimental programme, this month First Light successfully increased the 'standoff' distance, from which the projectile is fired, from 10mm to 10cm.

Dr Nick Hawker, Founder & CEO of First Light Fusion, said: "As we move into the era of commercialisation of fusion energy, solving the key engineering challenges in a power plant is a core focus for the First Light team."

"To reach commercial, cost-effective, and scalable fusion energy as part of our future energy mix, we need to solve the power plant fundamentals, and in a way that works with the physics."

Ms Fitzgerald, who led the 'standoff' project, said: "This is a milestone moment for First Light and the result of a huge amount of effort, time, and perseverance from the whole team."

A nuclear fusion structure, consisting of lots of scaffolding-like metal
Culham in Oxfordshire had previously been home to the Joint European Torus (JET) facility [BBC]

First Light has plans for a new, larger base in Culham - which had previously been home to the Joint European Torus (JET) facility, before experiments ended there in December.

The facility, which was run by the UK Atomic Energy Agency, produced a record amount of energy for a fusion reactor in its final test.

The UK government is hoping to build the world's first fusion power plant in Nottinghamshire, with operations beginning in the 2040s.

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