The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) has appointed a consortium of fusion specialists led by Atkins, and energy transition firm Assystem as engineering partners, to demonstrate the commercial viability of fusion energy.
The consortium will play a key role in the design and build of the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (Step) programme, which aims to construct a commercial-scale prototype fusion energy plant by 2040.
According to UKAEA, fusion technology has the potential to provide abundant, low-carbon energy – maintaining the UK’s net zero efforts in the long-term and underpinning future energy security.
Fusion is based on the same processes that power the sun and stars. When a mix of two forms of hydrogen – deuterium and tritium – are heated to form a plasma at extreme temperatures, which are 10 times hotter than the core of the sun, they fuse together to create helium and release huge amounts of energy.
However, fusion tests so far have not been able to generate this reaction for a prolonged period which is key to commercial use of the energy source.
‘Abundant, clean energy’
Over the next two years, the consortium will complete the concept design which are critical for UKAEA to push ahead with future phases of the Step project. The government has provided £220m funding for this first phase of the Step project.
Atkins and Assystems have previously worked together through the Engage consortium as architect and engineers for the international fusion energy project Iter, which is currently under construction in France. Atkins has also been working on Step since May this year when it secured to contract to become the infrastructure delivery partner for the project.
Working with Atkins and Assystems as part of the consortium on Step are fusion in-vessel component materials technology and safety specialist Oxford Sigma; in vessel components and tritium specialists Kyoto Fusioneering; and Ansaldo Nuclear.
Atkins EMEA managing director of nuclear and power, Christophe Junillon, said: “The commercialisation of fusion energy holds the key to unlocking an abundant source of safe, clean energy that will power a net zero future, and the ambitious Step programme positions the UK as a global leader in such highly complex projects.
“A viable, investible concept design is central to UKAEA’s ambitions and Atkins is proud to extend our involvement in Step’s development through this consortium.”
While the design is progressing, where Step will be located has not yet been determined. The UKAEA opened a call for site nominations in early 2021 which created a long list of 15 sites out of which five are currently on a shortlist for further evaluation.
The secretary of state for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Kwasi Kwarteng is expected to make an announcement on the location at the end of this year.
Image: 3D render of a fusion reactor (guteksk7/Shutterstock)
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