It’s one of the most significant science projects of our time. The scientists working on it are literally creating the Sun in laboratory conditions. Their efforts could bring humanity an almost limitless source of heat and electricity. What is it? A fusion reactor called the Tokamak.
For a long time, scientists couldn’t figure out the source of the Sun’s energy. Then they discovered that it happens through thermonuclear fusion. Physicists wondered how such a reaction could be used in Earth’s conditions. Their goal was to create a „small sun on Earth” that could generate vast amounts of clean energy. Research had been going on since the 1940s, and scientists thought they would soon reach their goal. They were wrong.
Several physical and technological hurdles stood in their way. Even today, eight decades later, humans still can’t produce more energy through thermonuclear fusion than they put into the process. However, humanity has made significant progress in this direction, and the Czechs deserve much credit for this.
What goes on inside a Tokamak?
Temperatures of up to one hundred million degrees Celsius, almost ten times the temperature at the center of the Sun! That is how high the temperature of the Prague COMPASS Upgrade Tokamak Reactor can reach. Even more impressive is that Czech scientists are building the COMPASS Upgrade reactor themselves – only about five countries can do that.
The predecessor of the COMPASS Upgrade reactor, COMPASS, has already lifted Czechia to the list of the world’s top nuclear fusion research countries. And it is COMPASS, on which Czech scientists have been experimenting for the last twelve years, that will provide valuable information to the French ITER project, which will be the first energy-generating Tokamak.
The ultimate goal is to create a fusion power plant that will be safer and more efficient than nuclear power plants. With the lifespan of plasma, fusion power plants will be an infinite source of heat and electricity!
COMPASS Upgrade: The Czech footprint on the Sun
The Czech scientists from the Institute of Plasma Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences contributed significantly to the Tokamak research. First, they ensured higher safety by testing what to do to prevent the melting of plates that cover Tokamak’s inside chamber. Second, they precisely calculated and tested how to place the multi-ton magnetic coils so that the Tokamak could reach its maximum parameters. They have also developed a new method for measuring the magnetic field in the harsh conditions of a fusion reactor and have produced a set of eighty sensors for this purpose.
But the development and testing of the Prague Tokamak reactor is not a super-secret project to which the public is forbidden access. Summer and winter experimental schools are organized for professionals and the broad public at Prague’s Tokamak. Over the last twelve years, over three hundred international students and young scientists have participated.
So far, there is a very close global collaboration on Tokamak development. But the question is whether this will be replaced by a worldwide race for unlimited energy when cooperation bears its first fruit in the form of the first energy-producing Tokamak. Let’s hope that the spirit of global brothership prevails.