A GROUNDBREAKING project to create clean energy from seawater has been given a major boost at a time of great uncertainty in the form of £21m funding.
Culham Centre for Fusion Energy says the cash injection will keep it at the head of its field internationally and is a vote of confidence from Europe.
The scientists have been working on creating a working fusion reactor at Culham for years but now they have been given funding to tackle one's of the biggest problems – getting rid of the waste gas created in the process.
The way fusion works is that scientists take a form of hydrogen found in seawater, deuterium, and heat it up in a reactor until it is ten times hotter than the centre of the sun.
The atoms are then fired into each other making them fuse together and form helium.
This process releases masses of energy which can be captured and used to generate electricity.
But it also leaves incredibly hot helium, still ten times hotter than the sun, which needs to be got rid of before it damages the reactor.
The Culham team are hoping to use the £21m funding to develop an exhaust pipe which rapidly cools the helium so it can be released harmlessly into the atmosphere.
The funding has come jointly from the European fusion research consortium – EUROfusion – and the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
CCFE spokesman Nick Holloway said the EU funding especially was a massive vote of confidence in the UK fusion project after the great uncertainty caused by Brexit.
He said: "It means we in the UK will be tackling one of the biggest problems in fusion and it's a good sign that we will continue working with Europe."
The funding will be phased between now and 2022. The UK is due to have left the EU by the end of 2019.
Mr Holloway added: "It's a good sign that we're not going to be cut off from the EU and that is so important in a big science project like this."
A series of Oxfordshire scientists and MPs aired fears for the future after the UK voted to leave the European Union and the Government announced the country would also pull out of the European nuclear co-operation body Euratom.
CCFE director professor Ian Chapman said the centre faced its 'greatest period of uncertainty' and feared it could lose hundreds of researchers.
Andrew Harrison, CEO of Diamond Light Source at Harwell, said his facility's success relied on recruiting skilled European workers, but after leaving the European Union 'they may or may not remain'.
The Culham fusion project, dubbed MAST Upgrade, is run by the UK Atomic Energy Authority.
The reactor they are developing is called Tokamak.