UK nuclear fusion power plant revealed

Tokamak Energy has today released the first images of its commercial fusion power plant, which will generate enough electricity to power 50,000 homes in the 2030s.

The company, based near Oxford in the UK, plans to build a fusion pilot plant around its upcoming ST-E1 tokamak, which it says will be ready for rollout in the early 2030s to demonstrate the ability to deliver electricity to the grid, opening the potential for 500-megawatt commercial plants to be deployed worldwide. 

In 2021, Tokamak Energy achieved a fusion threshold plasma temperature of 100 million degrees Celsius in its current spherical tokamak, ST40. The company will build its next device, ST80-HTS, at UK Atomic Energy Authority’s Culham Campus in 2026 before completing ST-E1 in the early 2030s.

When a mix of deuterium and tritium, two forms of hydrogen, is heated at temperatures hotter than the sun’s core, they fuse to create helium and release energy that can be harnessed to produce electricity and heat. The plasma created by the heating process is confined using strong magnets arranged in a ring-shaped device called a tokamak.

Fusion is extremely efficient, creating far more energy per kilogram of fuel than the burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, or gas produces. One kilogram (2.2 lb) of fusion fuel releases the same energy as burning about 10,000 tonnes (11,023 ton) of coal. Tokamak Energy says that fusion offers other advantages that other renewable energy sources lack.

“Renewables are fantastic and absolutely vital,” said Warrick Matthews, managing director of Tokamak Energy. “However, we also need dependable, reliable power you can switch on around the clock – when the sun isn’t shining or wind isn’t blowing – without high storage costs. Fusion fills that important gap as part of a sustainable net zero future.”

Fusion is the opposite of nuclear fission, which occurs when a neutron slams into a larger atom, exciting it and causing it to split into two smaller atoms, creating energy. Unlike nuclear fission, fusion doesn’t create nuclear waste and, moreover, fusion power plants take up less land space.

“Fusion energy from power plants like this will be zero carbon, safe, secure, extremely efficient and run on limitless fuel from seawater,” Matthews said. “Fusion is the ultimate energy source – no emissions and you can put a plant where you need it.”