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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 April 2007, 14:35 GMT 15:35 UK
Diamond bid to contain sun's heat
Plasma reactor
The diamonds are made in a plasma reactor
Scientists in Edinburgh are developing tiles covered in homegrown diamonds which they claim could help create a waste-free nuclear power reactor.

Experts at Heriot-Watt University have developed a method of growing large amounts of diamond film.

They said this could be used to coat the tiles which line the walls of prototype fusion reactors.

Diamond is thought to be able to withstand the "sun-like temperatures" better than other materials.

Present methods of generating nuclear power use fission to split atoms.

In prototype fusion reactors the internal walls are lined with carbon composite tiles similar to those found on the edges of space shuttle's wings or the brakes of jet aircraft
Professor John Wilson
Heriot-Watt University

Fusion works on the principle that energy can be released by forcing together rather than splitting atomic nuclei.

The three-year Heriot-Watt project, worth 1.4m, is being led by Professor Phil John and Professor John Wilson.

Professor John said: "The ultimate energy source is the sun.

"Confining the fusion power of the sun on earth has long been the goal of scientists and engineers searching for a benign source of energy which does not pollute the planet with long-lived radioactive waste or contribute to global warming.

"In prototype fusion reactors the internal walls are lined with carbon composite tiles similar to those found on the edges of space shuttle's wings or the brakes of jet aircraft.

"Even this material may not be sufficient to withstand the enormously hot plasmas envisaged for the next generation of fusion reactors."

Closed down

He said erosion of the tiles would mean frequent shut-downs to allow them to be replaced.

"To prevent this, we intend to coat the tiles with diamond, a material unique in its ability to withstand high temperatures, be resistant to radiation and maintain chemical stability in the presence of hydrogen plasmas," he said.

That would allow the prototype reactor to operate for longer periods before it would need to be closed down for maintenance.

The work will be used at Iter, a Euro international research and development project that aims to demonstrate the scientific and technical feasibility of fusion power.

The project is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council with financial support from UKAEA Culham and two UK manufacturers of carbon tiles, Dunlop Aerospace Ltd and Morganite Ltd.


SEE ALSO
Q&A: Nuclear fusion reactor
21 Nov 06 |  Science/Nature
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28 Jun 05 |  Science/Nature
Clock ticking on fusion decision
08 Mar 05 |  Science/Nature

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