The U.K. Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) announced on January 12 that the South Oxfordshire District Council Planning Committee approved a planned fusion energy demonstration project at UKAEA’s Culham Campus. UKAEA and General Fusion, the magnetized target fusion company that designed the demo plant, announced that same day that construction will begin this summer, with commissioning planned for 2026 and full operations by early 2027.
The plan: Architectural firm AL_A, with Ove Arup Engineers, designed the 10,500-square-meter building to project “a confident message to the public about the extraordinary potential of this technology,” according to Amanda Levete, AL_A founder and principal.
When construction is complete, General Fusion will lease the building from UKAEA and construct a machine scaled to 70 percent of a commercial power plant. The demo will be capable of creating fusion conditions in a “power plant-relevant” environment, with temperatures over 100 million degrees Celsius, but will not generate power.
In General Fusion’s magnetized target approach to deuterium-tritium fusion power, a plasma target is injected into a spherical cavity inside a rotating chamber of liquid lithium. As described in this video, the chamber is surrounded by a system of pneumatic pistons actuated with variable timings and pressures that is responsible for first shaping that inner cavity into a sphere and then collapsing the cavity to compress and heat the toroidal plasma target to fusion conditions. While magnetic fields keep the plasma from physically contacting the liquid metal, heat from the fusion reaction is transferred to the metal, which is then used to generate steam and drive a turbine.
The site: General Fusion announced its plans to build a demo on the Culham Campus in June 2021. In October 2022, General Fusion and UKAEA announced a series of projects to advance the design of the demo using UKAEA’s expertise in building polychromators to measure electron temperature, in neutrons model development and simulations, and vacuum test facilities to test the steel for the demonstration vessel.
“The U.K. has been a longstanding leader in fusion energy development. We are thrilled to join the Culham Campus and the U.K.’s Fusion Cluster, and anticipate creating 60 long-term jobs at the site,” said Greg Twinney, chief executive officer of General Fusion, which is based in Vancouver, Canada, with satellite offices in London and Oak Ridge, Tenn. “In addition, we expect the project will generate approximately 200 jobs during construction.”
“UKAEA welcomes this milestone as it aligns with our strategy to create clusters that accelerate innovation in fusion and related technologies, and support public-private partnerships to thrive,” said Sir Ian Chapman, CEO of UKAEA. “It also builds upon our heritage of hosting major fusion facilities here at our Culham Campus.”
UKAEA’s programs include the MAST-Upgrade (Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak) fusion experiment; the JET (Joint European Torus) fusion research facility; and STEP (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production), a project to produce net electricity from a prototype fusion power plant in the 2040s in Nottinghamshire, U.K.
Canadian power plans: In November 2022, General Fusion and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) announced a memorandum of understanding to “develop fusion energy research capabilities within CNL, to support the goal of constructing a potential General Fusion commercial power plant in Canada before 2030.”
CNL and General Fusion will collaborate at CNL’s Chalk River Laboratories campus in Ontario on projects including feasibility studies, regulatory framework, power plant siting and deployment, infrastructure design, and testing and operations support. The plant would follow and be informed by work at the U.K.-based demonstration project.