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GA and Tokamak Energy Sign MOU, Pursue Fusion Tech

General Atomics has taken on an international partner with plans to collaborate on high temperature superconducting (HTS) magnet technologies – a key part of the scientific quest to create energy from nuclear fusion.

GA and U.K.-based Tokamak Energy Ltd. announced late last month (May 30) that they had signed a memorandum of understanding.

A tokamak is type of a reactor that contains high-temperature plasma that holds nuclear fusion. A strong magnetic field, rather than walls, keeps the plasma in place.

Anantha Krishnan
Senior Vice President
General Atomics

“GA is excited to collaborate with Tokamak Energy on HTS magnets,”  said Anantha Krishnan, senior vice president at General Atomics.  “Tokamak Energy is a leader in HTS magnet modeling, design and prototyping and GA has expertise in developing and fabricating large-scale superconducting magnets for fusion applications.”

Tokamak Energy, a spin-off from UK Atomic Energy Authority, has been developing HTS technologies for fusion for more than a decade.

GA builds its HTS magnets at a specialized facility it established in 2015 in the Poway Business Park. There the privately held business is fabricating the central solenoid modules for the international ITER reactor, a project going together in the south of France. When assembled, ITER’s central solenoid will stand five stories tall and weigh 1,000 tons.

Magnetic fusion is the most thoroughly researched path to fusion energy. The approach utilizes a device known as a tokamak, which uses several sets of powerful electromagnets to shape and confine superheated hydrogen gas – known as plasma. To achieve fusion conditions relevant for energy production, tokamaks must heat the gas to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius – more than 10 times the temperature at the center of the sun. This is the threshold required for fusion to be a commercially viable energy source.

Strong magnetic fields are generated by passing large electrical currents around arrays of electromagnet coils that circle the plasma. The magnets are wound from ground-breaking HTS tapes, multi-layered conductors with a crucial internal coating of rare earth barium copper oxide (REBCO) superconducting material.

According to GA, developing more powerful HTS magnets will allow fusion power plants to use thinner magnetic coils while generating plasmas at greater densities. This would enable the facilities to operate with greater efficiency and smaller footprints, thereby improving their cost effectiveness.

General Atomics & Affiliated Companies

FOUNDED: 1955
CEO: Neal Blue
HEADQUARTERS: Torrey Pines Mesa
BUSINESS: Defense contractor and technology company
EMPLOYEES: More than 12,500
WEBSITE: www.ga.com
CONTACT: 858a455-3000
NOTABLE: GA operates an experimental nuclear fusion reactor called DIII-D (pronounced dee three dee) on its campus near UC San Diego

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