A future of fusion as UK creates new governing body

The UK is to power ahead with its fusion energy ambitions with the creation of a new delivery body for the UK’s fusion programme.

UK Industrial Fusion Solutions Ltd, will be at the forefront of the country’s efforts to build a future of abundant low-carbon energy without the need for fossil fuels, according to science minister George Freeman.

The announcement came during a visit by Freeman to the site of the UK’s first prototype fusion energy plant at West Burton, Nottinghamshire. The Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) plant will be constructed by 2040 to “demonstrate the ability to use fusion energy to generate electricity for the UK grid”.

Freeman said now was the time for energy companies and investors to recognise the vast potential fusion energy could have for both the UK and the wider world.

“Fusion energy now has the potential to transform our world for the better by harnessing the same process powering the sun to provide cheap, abundant, low-carbon energy across the world,” Freeman said. “The UK is the world-leader in fusion science and technology, and now we are moving to turn fusion from cutting edge science into a billion-pound clean energy industry to create thousands of UK jobs across the UK, grow exports and drive regeneration of this former coalfield site through a fusion innovation cluster in Nottinghamshire.

“That’s why I’m delighted to announce the creation of Industrial Fusion Solutions as the vehicle for industrial development and deployment of this technology as a new clean energy source in the coming decades.”

He added fusion energy has the potential to transform our world, by delivering near limitless, safe and low-carbon energy across the globe for generations to come.

“It also represents a burgeoning industry in which the UK is already a world-leader, as demonstrated by the record-setting results from experiments conducted at the UK’s Joint European Torus (JET) facility last year, with the potential to not only power the world but deliver vast economic growth across the country,” he said.

Magnetic confinement fusion, the approach to generate fusion that will be demonstrated in STEP, occurs when a mix of two forms of hydrogen are heated to extreme temperatures – 10 times hotter than the core of the sun – fuse together to create helium and release huge amounts of energy.

The energy created from fusion can be used to generate electricity in the same way as existing power stations. Fusion is many million times more efficient than burning coal, oil or gas and the raw materials needed to provide the fuel for fusion are readily available in nature. However, a number of significant technical hurdles remain, which the STEP programme is set up to address.

“The STEP programme intends to pave the way to the commercialisation of fusion and the potential development of a fleet of future plants around the world, driving forward the UK’s global leadership in this innovative sector,” the government said in a statement.

The announcement comes shortly after a major breakthrough for fusion in the US where the US National Ignition Facility in California conducted fusion experiments which released more energy than was put in by the lab’s enormous, high-powered lasers, a landmark achievement known as energy gain.

Professor Sir Ian Chapman, UKAEA Chief Executive, added: “The establishment of Industrial Fusion Solutions will enable STEP to accelerate its journey towards delivery of electricity from fusion energy to the grid. The new body, which will be formed over the next 18 months, will be established as a programme delivery organisation, driving performance and pace and engaging industry in this endeavour.

“Alongside the establishment of the new organisation, we are beginning to map out our future skills requirements and, as part of this, we are committing to the development of a STEP Skills Centre at West Burton. This will enable us to provide as many opportunities as possible to people across the area.

“We look forward to working with people in the region to develop our ambitious plans and realising broader social and economic benefits.

The new organisation will be a company limited by shares established to work together with industry to deliver the prototype plant by 2040. Recruitment for the Chair of UKIFS launches soon.”