“Working at Culham is full of challenges. Most of the time it involves the how to get a square peg in a round hole type of thinking.” Read more
Culham is the UK’s national fusion lab and one of the world’s leading centres for fusion research.
Fusion powers the Sun and all stars. In order to release fusion energy on Earth, plasma (ionised gas) must be kept at extreme temperatures. Culham houses two major experiments, JET and MAST, as part of a global programme where physicists and engineers are confining plasmas at hundreds of millions of degrees and developing technology for fusion power plants.
UKAEA maintains and operates the world’s largest magnetic fusion experiment, the Joint European Torus (JET), at Culham on behalf of its European partners, as well as participating in the JET research programme with colleagues from Europe and around the world. The exceptional scientific results of JET, together with expertise gained in the collective use of the JET facility, have allowed Europe to play a key role in plans for the larger, globally-funded ITER project that aims to produce a massive 500-700MW of fusion power. ITER is now being built at Cadarache in southern France.
UKAEA also runs Britain’s fusion programme, centred on the pioneering MAST (Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak) facility. MAST, like JET, confines and control hot plasma, but differs in its configuration. It holds the plasma in a more compact, and in principle more efficient, shape compared to JET; one that may form the basis of second or third generation fusion power stations. MAST is undergoing a £40 million upgrade, enabling it to explore key reactor design issues. The ‘MAST Upgrade’ machine is due to start up in 2017 and will give the UK a major international fusion research device throughout the 2020s.
Two other new facilities at Culham offer opportunities for graduate placements. The RACE (Remote Applications in Challenging Environments) centre is developing robotic and remote handling systems for fusion and other industrial applications. Meanwhile, at the Materials Research Facility, researchers examine samples at the nanoscale to develop better materials for future fusion and nuclear fission reactors.
The work involved in bringing fusion to the power grid is challenging and varied. Our engineers and scientists are developing solutions that will be crucial to the success of these major international ventures. For some examples read our graduate profiles.