Fusion demonstration plant to be built in UK

17 June 2021

Canadian company General Fusion is to build and operate a plant to demonstrate its nuclear fusion technology at UKAEA's Culham Campus near Oxford in the UK. The Fusion Demonstration Plant (FDP) will pave the way for a commercial pilot plant using Magnetised Target Fusion (MTF) technology and is expected to begin operations in 2025.

General Fusion's vision for its plant of the future (Image: General Fusion)

General Fusion will enter into a long-term lease with UKAEA following the construction of a new facility to host the FDP under an agreement announced today by UK Science Minister Amanda Solloway. "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," she said.

UKAEA is a government research organisation responsible for the development of nuclear fusion power. It is responsible for the nation's fusion programme, headed by the MAST Upgrade (Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak) experiment, also at Culham, which achieved first plasma for the first time last year. It also hosts the JET (Joint European Torus) fusion research facility, which it operates under a contract with the European Commission.

General Fusion's MTF approach to fusion involves injecting hydrogen plasma into a liquid metal sphere, where it is compressed and heated so that fusion occurs. The heat from the fusion of the hydrogen atoms is transferred into the liquid metal. This is different to the tokamak approach, which is used in JET and MAST Upgrade, but General Fusion and UKAEA said they intend to collaborate on a range of fusion energy technologies for power plant design and operation.

"Coming to Culham gives us the opportunity to benefit from UKAEA's expertise," General Fusion CEO Christofer Mowry said. "By locating at this campus, General Fusion expands our market presence beyond North America into Europe, broadening our global network of government, institutional and industrial partners."

Construction of the FDP - which General Fusion says will be "the largest privately funded MTF prototype in history" is to begin in 2022. The demonstration plant will be used to prove the viability of the MTF technology and is a 70%-scaled version of the commercial pilot plant. It will create fusion conditions in a "power-plant relevant" environment but will not be used to produce power. The FDP will cycle one plasma pulse per day, and will used deuterium fuel, whereas the commercial pilot plant will use deuterium-tritium fuel and will cycle up to one plasma pulse per second.

General Fusion says its approach of maximising the use of existing industrial technologies such as pneumatic pistons, and not relying on large, superconducting magnets or expensive lasers means a more readily available supply chain, making MTF easier to manufacture and scale than other fusion technologies. The company says its goal is to bring fusion energy to the world by the early 2030s.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News