Having decided “to not associate to the Euratom Research and Training program (Euratom R&T) and, by extension, the Fusion for Energy Program,” the government of the United Kingdom announced plans on September 7 to support its homegrown UK Fusion Strategy by investing up to £650 million (about $811.8 million) through 2027 in a suite of research and development programs to support the country’s fusion sector and strengthen international collaboration. The funds are in addition to the £126 million (about $157.3 million) announced in November 2022 to support U.K. fusion R&D.
Open to collaboration: Despite the decision to leave Euratom’s Fusion for Energy (F4E) program, the U.K. government said in its announcement, “This ambitious domestic program fully aligns with the core principle of international collaboration in the U.K. fusion strategy, and we remain open to such collaboration including with the EU and ITER (the large international fusion experiment being built in France). However, we believe the U.K. can be of most use to the global fusion mission outside the Euratom R&T framework.”
Benefits could also accrue to the U.K., according to the announcement: “Given delays to association and the direction of travel of these EU programs, an alternative approach gives the UK the best opportunity to deliver our fusion strategy by driving job creation, investment, and growth in our world-leading fusion sector.”
Plan of action: The new U.K. fusion R&D package would include new facilities specifically to support fusion fuel cycle capabilities and innovation, a new “fusion skills package” to develop the skills and capability needed, further support to strengthen international collaborative projects, and other measures to accelerate commercial fusion energy, including through investments in the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) program, which could see a prototype fusion power plant built in Nottinghamshire. Further details on the new R&D investments are expected later this fall.
Andrew Bowie, U.K. minister for nuclear and networks, said, “Today’s investment is a game-changer for the U.K. It gives us the best opportunity to create jobs, investment, and, ultimately, economic growth. And it gives our talented science community the opportunity to work with experts all around the world.”
Sir Ian Chapman, chief executive officer of the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), said in a separate September 7 announcement that “UKAEA welcomes the clarity about our future relationship with the Euratom R&T program which provides the certainty needed by the sector. The government’s commitment to an ambitious alternative R&D program will be hugely important in sustaining the U.K.’s position as a leader in fusion R&D as well as developing an industrial capability to deliver future fusion power plants. We welcome the ambition to retain, and even enhance, our international collaborative relationships through this substantial package of alternative R&D.”
About Euratom’s Fusion for Energy: Fusion for Energy (F4E) was established in 2007 for a period of 35 years and is the EU organization managing Europe’s contribution to ITER. Headquartered in Barcelona, Spain, F4E also has offices in Cadarache, France; Garching, Germany; and Rokkasho, Japan.
According to F4E’s Consolidated Annual Activity Report for 2022, following ratification of Brexit agreements the U.K. had been expected to become “an associate member state of Euratom” and to “retain participation in all parts of the Euratom program, under equivalent conditions as full Member States. Article 8 of the EU-U.K. Joint Declaration states that the U.K. will continue to participate as a member of F4E. . . . Once Britain’s membership shall take effect, U.K. economic operators will be able to sign new contracts and grants with F4E and British citizens will be again eligible for F4E employment. Existing contracts, with companies and individuals, are not impacted, while grants with U.K. beneficiaries have been terminated or suspended until ratification.”
That plan has changed, and the September 7 announcement may end several years of uncertainty about U.K.-EU research ties following the June 2016 U.K. referendum on EU membership—at least in the case of fusion energy research.