A company said it has made a major breakthrough in its quest to design a power plant capable of producing energy from nuclear fusion.

In nuclear fusion, pairs of atoms are heated and forced together to make one heavier one.

It is what gives the Sun its energy and scientists have been trying to recreate it on Earth since the 1960s.

They hope it could eventually provide limitless quantities of clean energy.

First Light Fusion, based in Yarnton, is designing a power plant that will work like an internal combustion engine where the target contains the fuel, and a projectile fired at speed is the spark plug.

The target will be dropped into the reaction chamber, and the tremendous speed of the projectile will create the extreme temperatures and pressures required to achieve fusion.

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One of the key engineering challenges is how to launch a projectile accurately, at velocities of several kilometres per second, while avoiding it melting before it hits the fuel.

This month the team used Machine 3 – a pulsed power machine that launches projectiles electromagnetically - to increase the previously achieved highest distance from 10mm to 10cm.

Oxford Mail: First Light Fusion's Machine 3

In a power plant, the standoff distance required will be several metres.

First Light now has a team of five scientists and engineers working full time on the design and development of a pilot power plant.

Scientist Mila Fitzgerald said: “This is a milestone moment for First Light and the result of a huge amount of effort, time, and perseverance from the whole team.

“As we scale up our approach and look to design a pilot power plant based on First Light’s projectile approach – one of the key challenges is being able to fire a projectile at high speeds and from a further distance.

"That is the basis of our current pilot plant design.

Oxford Mail: First Light Fusion

“This experiment demonstrates a way for us to do that and is an exciting step in the right direction.”

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Dr Nick Hawker, founder and CEO, added: “To reach commercial, cost-effective, and scalable fusion energy as part of our future energy mix, we need to solve the power plant fundamentals, and in a way that works with the physics.

"This is a very significant derisking moment. There is further work to do. Now we have a solid projectile, we move on to studying and controlling the accuracy of launch."