UKAEA to host first-of-its-kind fusion project

Article by Amanda Jasi

General Fusion
Concept image of a General Fusion power plant

THE UK Atomic Energy Authority has entered into an agreement with General Fusion, that will see the Canada-based commercial fusion company build and operate its first-of-a-kind fusion demonstration plant (FDP) at the Culham campus in Oxfordshire, UK.

Fusion power is a potential source of clean energy, considered cleaner than nuclear fission and offering a nearly-unlimited fuel supply. Commercial realisation could transform global power generation and help achieve a lower carbon economy.

The FDP will demonstrate General Fusion’s proprietary Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF) technology, which generates electricity by pumping hot liquid metal through a heat exchanger to heat water, which then turns a steam turbine. It will verify that the technology can create fusion conditions in a practical and cost-effective manner at plant-relevant scales, and refine the economics of fusion energy production. The project will pave the way for a commercial pilot plant.

Following construction of the new facility at Culham, General Fusion will enter a long-term lease with UKAEA to host its project. Christopher Mowry, CEO of General Fusion, commented that locating at Culham gives the company an opportunity to benefit from UKAEA’s expertise. UKAEA researches fusion energy and related technologies with the aim of positioning the UK as a leader in sustainable nuclear energy.

According to the partners, General Fusion will also benefit from the cluster of fusion supply chain activities in the UK, centred around UKAEA’s globally recognised expertise and presence in the field.

Additionally, it will be positive for UKAEA and the Culham site, as it is strongly aligned with UKAEA’s mission and the goal of developing Culham into a leading location for fusion energy development, as well as a key location for a nascent “UK fusion cluster”.

The project follows more than a decade spent advancing General Fusion’s technology and presents a major milestone on the company’s path to commercialisation. It will be a first-of-its-kind showcase of MTF, as well as the largest privately-funded MTF prototype in history, according to General Fusion.

Construction is anticipated to begin in 2022, with operation following in 2025.

General Fusion and UKAEA intend to collaborate on a range of fusion energy technologies for power plant design and operation.

Ian Chapman, CEO of UKAEA, commented: “This is a great development for UKAEA, very much in line with our mission to lead the development of sustainable fusion energy, and builds on our long heritage of hosting major fusion facilities such as the Joint European Torus.”

Amanda Solloway, Minister for Science, Research & Innovation, said: “This new plant by General Fusion is a huge boost for our plans to develop a fusion industry in the UK, and I’m thrilled that Culham will be home to such a cutting-edge and potentially transformative project.

“Fusion energy has great potential as a source of limitless, low-carbon energy, and today’s announcement is a clear vote of confidence in the region and the UK’s status as a global science superpower.”

The agreement was announced on 17 June.

MTF technology differs from the tokamak approach used in fusion projects such as the international Joint European Torus (JET) and ITER, as well as the UK’s national Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak (MAST) Upgrade. The tokamak – which Culham Centre for Fusion Energy says is the most successful fusion concept yet developed – uses powerful external magnetic fields to confine and control the hot plasma of fusion fuels in a ring-shaped container called a “torus”. JET and MAST Upgrade are both located at Culham.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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