UKAEA appoints AtkinsRéalis to design ‘key element’ of fusion research facility

Article by Aniqah Majid

UK Atomic Energy Authority
The isotope separation system will be part of the larger tritium fuel cycle facility currently in construction in Oxfordshire.

THE UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) has announced the development of a new industrial-sized facility that will support research into tritium processing, an essential fuel for nuclear fusion technology.

Engineering firm AtkinsRéalis will deliver the process and mechanical designs for an isotope separation system they say will make it the most advanced research facility of its kind.

The system will provide the infrastructure for the larger tritium fuel cycle facility, Hydrogen-3 Advanced Technology (H3AT).

The firm has completed the preliminary designs for the system along with the concept designs for H3AT, which is currently under construction at UKAEA’s Culham Campus in Oxfordshire.

Stephen Wheeler, executive director of UKAEA, said: “This system will be the first industrial-scale tritium facility for fusion in the world and will enable industry and academia to study how to process, store, and recycle tritium, a key fusion fuel.”

Isotope separation system

Tritium and deuterium are hydrogen isotopes and the key fuel sources needed to generate nuclear fusion energy.

While deuterium is commonly found in large quantities in seawater, tritium is scarce in nature due to how fast it decays. The fuel is typically made using lithium taken from the Earth’s crust.

Tritium risks contaminating groundwater and air if not properly contained, while high quantities of exposure can increase the risk of cancer.

Isotope separation is necessary during the nuclear reaction process to decrease the chance of tritium escaping into the environment via reactor emissions and cooling water.

AtkinsRéalis’ design for the separation system will include cryogenic and ambient temperature equipment which is needed to collect, process, and recycle tritium fuel.

World-first tritium research facility

AtkinsRéalis has been working with UKAEA on the H3AT facility since 2021 and is also the delivery partner for its Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) programme.

Scientists and researchers will have access to H3AT to support programmes like the European ITER fusion reactor, where AtkinsRéalis is also the architect engineer.

The firm said that H3AT is a scaled version of the design for ITER and will include units that will facilitate the handling, testing, and validation of tritium, namely, storage beds and an impurity storage system.

Jason Dreisbach, head of advanced energy technology at AtkinsRéalis, said: “The H3AT facility will be a first-of-a-kind research facility to strengthen UK and international efforts to advance tritium fuel cycle technology.

“The isotype separation system is a key element to demonstrate fusion fuel cycle performance at scale, and we look forward to contributing our significant experience in fusion engineering and tritium to help realise UKAEA’s ambitions.”

Article by Aniqah Majid

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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