UK grants planning approval for General Fusion demonstrator

Article by Adam Duckett

An artist's impression of the interior of the General Fusion demonstration facility

A FUSION energy demonstration plant has been granted planning permission with construction at the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA) Culham Campus expected to start this summer.

When construction of the facility is completed, General Fusion will lease it from the UKAEA to host its demonstration-scale fusion power plant. The plant will be built to a 70% scale of a commercial power plant and is expected to be commissioned in 2026 and fully operation by early 2027.

Greg Twinney, CEO of General Fusion, said: “The UK has been a longstanding leader in fusion energy development. We are thrilled to join the Culham Campus and the UK’s Fusion Cluster, and anticipate creating 60 long-term jobs at the site.”

General Fusion’s proprietary Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF) technology will use high-pressure pneumatic pistons that surround a rotating internal chamber, which is made up of smaller pistons. The chamber will be filled with liquid metal and rotated, pushing the metal to the outsides of the chamber and forming a cavity at the centre. The pistons will then push inwards in a synchronised pattern to push the liquid metal inwards forming a sphere. At the same time hydrogen plasma will be injected into the shrinking central cavity which the liquid metal then compresses and fusion occurs. The resulting heat is then transferred into the liquid metal. The demonstrator will not include the facilities to generate power for the grid but at commercial scale the heat from the operation would be used to raise steam to drive a turbine and generate electricity.

Commenting on the planning approval, Ian Chapman, CEO of UKAEA, said: “The UKAEA welcomes this milestone as it aligns with our strategy to create clusters that accelerate innovation in fusion and related technologies, and support public-private partnerships to thrive.”

The building is designed by architects AL_A, led by Stirling Prize winner Amanda Levete and Ove Arup Engineers. It has been designed to meet BREEAM sustainability standards through its reuse of waste heat, and use of natural ventilation and solar power.

Levete said: “The building will not only be highly efficient but one that also expresses the technological optimism of fusion to solve the energy problems of the world. The design projects a confident message to the public about the extraordinary potential of this technology. It represents a clear shift in the relationship between environment and industry, moving from one of opposition to one of symbiosis.”

Fusion developers have made a series of breakthroughs recently. In December, researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory demonstrated fusion ignition, with a reaction experiment generating more fusion energy than was delivered to the target by lasers. Earlier last year, fusion researchers at the Joint European Torus (JET) facility at Culham also achieved a record-breaking sustained burst of energy.

Last year, the UK Government released a fusion strategy outlining goals to demonstrate the technology and build a world-leading fusion industry. In October, it selected the site of a coal-fired power plant in Nottinghamshire to host the UK’s prototype nuclear fusion energy plant which aims to put net electricity on the grid in the 2040s.

Article by Adam Duckett

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