9th October 2008 - 03:54 PM
The power of the sun is to be recreated in a new £1 billion science project which aims to provide a clean and almost limitless source of energy.
> British scientists will this week begin work to create a nuclear fusion reactor, which will use the same powerful reactions that take place in the Sun to provide energy and, ultimately, electricity.
Scientists have previously only been able to replicate the reaction inside hydrogen bombs.
Now, however, they believe they are on the verge of achieving controlled fusion in a laboratory for the first time.
Laser beams with enough power to light up every home in Britain for a few microseconds will be used to heat up the nuclear fuel to millions of degrees centigrade in order to trigger the reaction.
If successful, the reactor will be a prototype for future commercial power stations, providing a cleaner and safer replacement for conventional nuclear power stations, which use nuclear fission to produce energy.
Unlike nuclear fission, which tears apart atoms to release energy and highly radioactive by-products, fusion involves squeezing two "heavy" hydrogen atoms, called deuterium and tritium together so they fuse, producing harmless helium and vast amounts of energy.
Previous attempts to harness fusion have failed due to the huge amount of power needed to start the reaction and keep it running, leading to more power being put into the system than is ever given out. But scientists at the Rutherford Appleton
Laboratory, near Oxford, hope their approach will generate useful power for the first time.
Leading a consortium of physicists from across Europe they will tomorrow launch the three year process of planning and designing the High Powered Laser Research (HiPER) facility.
Professor Mike Dunne, director of the central laser facility at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and one of the scientists leading the fusion project, said that fusion could provide a safe source of energy with no carbon emissions and plentiful energy supplies.
He said: "HiPER is aiming to bridge the step between proving nuclear fusion is possible and a commercial power station.
"It should prove that a big enough laser can be built, with a high enough repetition rate and efficiency, which are the critical building blocks on the route towards fusion energy."
Fusion reactors are already under construction in the US and France using two separate approaches to creating the intense pressure and heat required to trigger the nuclear fusion reaction.
full @ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtm...5/scisun104.xml
By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent