Culham - the hottest place on the planet


Culham - the hottest place on the planet

Fancy a bit of atomic tourism? Somewhere hot for your holidays? Amazingly, it is possible to visit a place where boffins fire up a miniature sun and create energy from nuclear fusion. And it's near Abingdon in Oxfordshire.

Culham Centre for Fusion Energy is the UK’s national nuclear fusion laboratory. It works with research partners and industry around the globe to realise the enormous potential of fusion for generating low-carbon electricity.

Nuclear fusion is the process that drives the Sun and all stars. Atoms such as hydrogen are fused together at super-hot temperatures to create a new element, releasing energy in the process. (Fission, as in nuclear power and atomic weapons, is the opposite process, in which atoms are split). Mastering this fundamental atomic reaction could offer a virtually limitless supply of energy if mastered on Earth. Bringing it to the electricity grid is one of the toughest challenges in science, but potentially one of the most rewarding.

The centre uses a tokamak (pictured), which is essentially a doughnut shaped chamber which controls and contains incredibly hot plasma using a magnetic field. Only magnetism could contain a fragment of the sun.

Culham has free open days and evenings so that visitors can find out more about this cutting edge science which seems a strange mix of Mary Shelley and sticky-back plastic.

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