The UK has announced a new delivery body to accelerate the development of nuclear fusion, which could one-day provide Britain with a near-limitless source of clean energy. Science Minister George Freeman has announced the creation of UK Industrial Fusion Solutions Ltd, the body that will deliver Britain’s nuclear fusion programme. Nuclear fusion is the same process used by stars like our sun, in which atoms of hydrogen are fused together to generate vast amounts of energy.
Once harnessed down on Earth, experts say it would provide a ‘holy grail’ source of energy with continuous flows with the potential to solve the world’s energy problems.
Currently, the UK still relies on polluting and expensive fossil fuels to power its homes and industries, leaving it exposed to volatile global markets. While a range of renewable technologies can help to wean the country off oil and gas further down the line, fusion might just be the pick of the bunch.
Britain plans for the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) plant to be constructed by 2040 to demonstrate the ability to use nuclear fusion energy to deliver electricity to the UK energy grid.
The plant will be built at West Burton, in Nottinghamshire, which the Science Minister visited on Monday. He urged energy firms and investors to recognise the significant potential fusion energy could have for the country.
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Mr Freeman said: “Fusion energy now has the potential to transform our world for the better by harnessing the same process powering the sun to provide cheap, abundant, low-carbon energy across the world.
“The UK is the world-leader in fusion science and technology, and now we are moving to turn fusion from cutting-edge science into a billion-pound clean energy industry to create thousands of UK jobs across the UK, grow exports and drive regeneration of this former coalfield site through a fusion innovation cluster in Nottinghamshire.
“That’s why I’m delighted to announce the creation of Industrial Fusion Solutions as the vehicle for industrial development and deployment of this technology as a new clean energy source in the coming decades.”
Magnetic confinement fusion, the approach to generate fusion that STEP will use, involves the mixing of two forms of hydrogen, heated to extreme temperatures up to 10 times hotter than the core of the sun, to fuse together to create helium and staggering amounts of energy.
While fusion is miles more efficient than burning coal, oil or gas, wth the raw materials needed to provide the fuel for fusion being readily available in nature, there are multiple technical barriers that need to be overcome before the technology becomes viable. The STEP programme seeks to address this and will be helped by the new nuclear fusion body.
Professor Sir Ian Chapman, UKAEA Chief Executive, said: “The establishment of Industrial Fusion Solutions will enable STEP to accelerate its journey towards delivery of electricity from fusion energy to the grid.
“The new body, which will be formed over the next 18 months, will be established as a programme delivery organisation, driving performance and pace and engaging industry in this endeavour.
“Alongside the establishment of the new organisation, we are beginning to map out our future skills requirements and, as part of this, we are committing to the development of a STEP Skills Centre at West Burton. This will enable us to provide as many opportunities as possible to people across the area.
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“We look forward to working with people in the region to develop our ambitious plans and realising broader social and economic benefits.”
Experts have said that nuclear fusion could prove vital as the fuel is abundant and, unlike typical nuclear reactors, fusion ones produce very little radioactive waste.
However, achieving the reaction means sustaining and controlling extreme conditions not too different from those found in the Sun, which has previously proved difficult.
Most fusion labs have reactors known as Tokamaks, which use powerful magnets to contain the plasma that hosts the fusion reaction.
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