The government has today provided more details on its plans to support the commercialisation of the UK’s nascent nuclear fusion sector, as it unveiled a new £650m Fusion Futures Programme.
Speaking at the IAEA Fusion Energy Conference this morning, Nuclear Minister Andrew Bowie said the new programme would include the creation of more than 2,200 training places across the country, a new fuel cycle testing facility to focus on commercialising the technology, and funding to develop infrastructure for private fusion companies.
The UK is one of the world leaders in nuclear fusion R&D through the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA) dedicated campus in Culham, Oxfordshire.
The government has said it is committed to growing the nascent sector through its Fusion Strategy, with today’s £650m of funding taking the total government investment in fusion to over £1.4bn since 2021.
Advocates of the technology maintain that it could provide near limitless supplies of clean power that could underpin a fully decarbonised energy system. But critics have long warned that the focus on a technology that remains years from commercialisation risks distracting from the development and deployment of clean energy technologies that could help cut emissions in the near term.
“With world-leading scientific talent and expertise based here in the UK, we have a golden opportunity to be at the cutting-edge of fusion and lead the way in its commercialisation as the ultimate clean energy source,” Bowie said. “The Fusion Futures Programme, backed by £650m, will be at the core of delivering this, training thousands of people across the country and ensuring we have the best possible facilities to develop this exciting new technology.”
The plans for the new programme were welcomed by Professor Sir Ian Chapman, CEO of the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), who said: “Delivering fusion power will require ideas to solve science and engineering challenges, involvement of industry partners, development of thousands of skilled people and strong international partnerships.
“Fusion Futures will invest in all of these aspects – a truly concerted programme that will support economic growth and high-quality jobs as well as advancing fusion as part of a future sustainable energy mix.”
The government said the new funding package would include up to £200m for a Fuel Cycle Testing Facility, to develop technology for breeding fuel for fusion power plants, as well as up to £200m for R&D projects to help ensure UK industry can develop and design components for future fusion power plants.
A further £50m has been assigned for growing and improving the Culham campus in Oxfordshire, including the development of new premises to help create a cluster of fusion companies and help drive inward investment.
Meanwhile, up to £55m has been earmarked for a Fusion Skills Programme to train over 2,200 people over the next five years to work in the expanding industry through a series of partnerships between business and universities.
In addition, up to £35m is to be provided to the Fusion Industry Programme (FIP) challenge fund; up to £25m is to help enhance international R&D collaboration, while up to £18m will be used to develop a Technology Transfer Hub to strengthen connections between the UK’s leading research organisations and other programmes worldwide; and up to £11m will further support the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) programme, which is working to design and construct a prototype fusion power plant.
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