Home » UK’s prototype nuclear fusion plant to be developed in ‘Industrial Metaverse’

UK’s prototype nuclear fusion plant to be developed in ‘Industrial Metaverse’

by Liam Turner
A man holding what looks like a nuclear atom in his hands

The engineering designs of the UK’s prototype fusion energy plant are to be developed in a highly immersive and connected digital twin.

That’s according to the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), which says the STEP (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production) plant in Nottinghamshire, will be first created in an ‘Industrial Metaverse’ via a collaboration between UKAEA, Dell Technologies, Intel, and the University of Cambridge.

The project will explore how supercomputers – capable of making up to one quintillion calculations per second – and AI technologies with advanced predictive capabilities can deliver a ‘digital twin’ of the STEP design.

The digital twin will enable STEP’s scientists and engineers to create a design in the virtual world with the aim of ensuring ecosystem readiness, value for money, and to help STEP achieve its goal of delivering electricity to the grid in the 2040s.

Exascale computing – the next generation of computing technology – will provide analytics to test STEP’s initial concepts.

Fusion energy promises to potentially offer a safer, low carbon, and more sustainable part of the world’s future energy supply.

The goal of future fusion powerplants is to emit no greenhouse gases and they are not expected to have long-lived, high-level radioactive waste associated with nuclear fission.

Development of fusion energy presents one of the world’s most difficult scientific and engineering challenges.

This includes the design of advanced materials that can withstand extreme conditions inside a fusion powerplant to confine a super-hot gas, known as plasma, to produce energy.

‘Science fiction to science fact’

Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary Grant Shapps, said: “Britain has long been at the forefront of world-leading – and world-changing – scientific breakthroughs and innovations. And fusion energy is no different.

“The world needs fusion energy like never before, has the potential to provide a ‘baseload’ power, underpinning renewables like wind and solar, which is why we’re investing over £700m to make the UK a global hub for fusion energy.

“This new collaboration with our world-renowned universities and tech companies ensures the UK solidifies its reputation as a science superpower, turning science fiction to science fact, with the potential for cheaper, cleaner and, crucially, more secure energy.”

Dr Rob Akers, director of Computing Programmes, UKAEA, said: “Exascale supercomputing, and the advent of the ‘AI era’ are essential and potentially transformative milestones that will help the UK to ensure STEP achieves its mission to connect fusion power to the national grid in the early 2040s.

“These powerful technologies will allow us to embed robustness, flexibility, and resilience into the STEP design.

“I firmly believe the future of sustainable energy will rely upon supercomputing.

“The world has an urgent need to provide energy security and combat climate change.

“This is a journey we must embark upon together, delivering access and capability to all those who will be instrumental in delivering commercial fusion energy.”

Dr Paul Calleja, director, Research Computing Services, University of Cambridge, said: “UKAEA’s moon-shot mission to put clean fusion energy on the UK grid in the 2040s is a hugely ambitious goal, needing equally ambitious advance computing and AI technologies to fuel the virtual engineering effort to create a complete digital reality of the power plant that can be developed and tested in silicon, which greatly accelerates the process.

“To this end, the Cambridge Open ZettaScale Lab in partnership with Intel, Dell, UKAEA, and a team of HPC experts from across UKRI have been working together for the past two years on a world leading co-design activity called ‘Project Dawn’ to design and prototype a candidate UK exascale class converged AI and simulation GPU/CPU supercomputer, with the computation power capable of helping UKAEA meet it its vast computational requirements.”

Image credit: Natali _ Mis/Shutterstock


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