UK to Focus on Fusion Pilot Plant

October 3, 2019

The UK government has announced that it is committing £220M to the conceptual design of a compact fusion pilot plant that will produce electricity around 2040. The plant is called Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP).

It is similar in concept to a recommendation the US Academies recommended be the focus of the US fusion effort in their report issued in late 2018. The Academies said in that report “The United States should start a national program of accompanying research and technology leading to the construction of a compact pilot plan that produces electricity from fusion at the lowest possible capital cost.” The US Academies report stated “A new national focus on developing a compact pilot plant in the long term will help set priorities for the near- and mid-term fusion program.” The US government has not yet acted on that recommendation.

The full text of the UK announcement is at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-to-take-a-big-step-to-fusion-electricity and is provided below.

Press release
Published 3 October 2019

The UK Government is committing £220M to the conceptual design of a fusion power station - the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP).

Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP, announced the funding package during a visit to the UK Atomic Energy Authority's Culham Science Centre HQ in Oxfordshire - the UK's world-leading fusion research laboratory.

Fusion offers a virtually limitless source of cleaner electricity by copying the processes that power the Sun - the collision of hydrogen atoms to release large amounts of energy. Researchers around the globe are now developing fusion reactors that can turn this into a commercial technology to help satisfy the world's ever-increasing demand for energy. STEP will be an innovative plan for a commercially-viable fusion power station - offering the realistic prospect of constructing a powerplant by 2040. The investment will allow engineers and scientists to produce a conceptual design for the reactor (known as a ‘tokamak’) that will generate fusion energy and convert it into electricity. UKAEA and partners from industry and academia will pool their expertise to complete the design by 2024.

The STEP programme will create 300 jobs directly, with even more in the UK fusion supply chain. In addition, the spin-outs from the design work are expected to be enormous - both in terms of synergies with other fusion powerplant design activities (such as Europe's ‘DEMO’ prototype power station) and other hi-tech industries.

STEP builds on UKAEA's expertise in developing so-called ‘spherical tokamaks’ - compact and efficient fusion devices that could offer an economical route to commercial fusion power. The new MAST Upgrade spherical tokamak experiment is due to start operations at Culham early in 2020. Its work will play a key role in the STEP design.

Andrea Leadsom, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said: “This is a bold and ambitious investment in the energy technology of the future. Nuclear fusion has the potential to be an unlimited clean, safe and carbon-free energy source and we want the first commercially viable machine to be in the U.K.

“This long-term investment will build on the UK's scientific leadership, driving advancements in materials science, plasma physics and robotics to support new hi-tech jobs and exports.” Professor Ian Chapman, CEO of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, added: “The UK has a proud heritage of pioneering developments in fusion research. This announcement demonstrates the UK government's commitment to translating that R&D leadership into a working fusion reactor. We are excited to work with our partners to take the next step towards a fusion-powered future.”

If your company or research organisation is interested in taking part in STEP, more information about the project is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/next-step-in-fusion

The STEP Procurement Plan Schedule is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/step-procurment-opportunities

Contact: For more information please contact Nick Holloway, UKAEA Media Manager, on 01235 466232 or nick.holloway@ukaea.uk.