Tokamak to construct demo fusion reactor at Culham

10 February 2023

Tokamak Energy is to build a prototype compact spherical tokamak, the ST80-HTS, at the UK Atomic Energy Authority's (UKAEA's) Culham Campus, near Oxford, England. The fusion device - with power plant-relevant magnet technology - will demonstrate multiple technologies required for the delivery of clean, sustainable fusion energy.

A cutaway of the ST80-HTS (Image: Tokamak Energy)

Constructing the new purpose-built facility at the Culham Campus - part of the thriving UK Fusion Cluster - provides the Tokamak with access to leading science and engineering capabilities, including knowledge and experience in designing, constructing and operating the record-breaking Joint European Torus (JET).

Designs for the facility are under way in partnership with construction consultants McBains, with build completion planned for 2026.

Oxfordshire-based Tokamak's ST80-HTS will target the significantly longer pulse durations needed for sustained high power output in commercially competitive fusion power plants. It will also inform the design of its ST-E1 fusion pilot plant, which will demonstrate the capability to deliver electricity into the grid in the early 2030s – demonstrating up to 200 MW of net electrical power.

"Today's exciting announcement is a major step forward on our mission to demonstrate grid-ready fusion energy by the early 2030s," said Tokamak Energy CEO Chris Kelsall. "Our next device, ST80-HTS, aims to validate key engineering solutions needed to make commercial fusion a reality and will showcase our world-class magnet technology at scale. It's clear public and private partnerships of this nature will be a crucial catalyst for fusion to deliver global energy security and mitigate climate change."

"Our ability to host major facilities extends right across the supply chain from design to decommissioning," said UKAEA CEO Ian Chapman. "The announcement is testament to Culham's attractiveness for fusion development as we welcome Tokamak Energy to the cluster on the Campus."

In October last year, UKAEA and Tokamak Energy signed a five-year framework agreement for closer collaboration "on developing spherical tokamaks as a route to commercial fusion energy". The agreement includes joint technology development, shared utilisation of equipment and secondment of staff and will focus on materials development and testing, power generation, fuel cycle, diagnostics and remote handling.

Earlier this month, Tokamak announced it had built a world-first set of new generation high-temperature superconducting magnets to be assembled and tested in fusion power plant-relevant scenarios.

The company's current ST40 fusion device in nearby Milton Park, Oxfordshire, has recently been upgraded to enable experiments relating to future features that will be incorporated in both ST80-HTS and ST-E1. Last year it achieved a 100 million degrees Celsius fusion plasma - the highest temperature ever recorded in a compact spherical tokamak.

Tokamak Energy's roadmap is for commercial fusion power plants deployed in the mid-2030s. To get there the plan is for completion of ST80-HTS in 2026 "to demonstrate the full potential of high temperature superconducting magnets" and to inform the design of its fusion pilot plant, ST-E1, which is slated to demonstrate the capability to deliver electricity - producing up to 200 MW of net electrical power - in the early 2030s.

There are a number of fusion facilities sited at, or planned, for the UKAEA's Culham facility. UKAEA last month signed an agreement with First Light Fusion for the design and construction of a facility to house the company's new net energy gain demonstrator, Machine 4, at Culham. Earlier South Oxfordshire District Council planning committee gave the go ahead for construction of Canada-based General Fusion's Fusion Demonstration Plant on the same campus. The 10,500-square-metre building will house the fusion machine which is expected to be commissioned in 2026.

The UKAEA carries out fusion energy research on behalf of the UK government, overseeing the country's fusion programme, including the MAST Upgrade (Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak) experiment as well as hosting the JET at Culham, which is operated for scientists from around Europe.

UKAEA is developing its own fusion power plant design with plans to build a prototype known as STEP (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production) at West Burton in Nottinghamshire, which is due to begin operating by 2040.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News