The First 'Commercially Viable' Fusion Power Plant in the Making
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The First 'Commercially Viable' Fusion Power Plant in the Making

By Energy CIO Insights | Thursday, October 24, 2019

Clean Energy is the need of the hour and UK is taking charge to build the first commercially viable fusion power plant for unlimited clean, safe, and carbon-free energy.

Fremont, CA: Fusion researchers have always faced criticism due to the unfulfilled promise of nuclear fusion reactor from the critics. However, in recent years, the fusion community has seen a few positive results. The ITER fusion reactor, which is near completion at Cadarache, France will finally turn on in 2025 following years of delays and cost hikes. Initially, it will use deuterium plasma to test all the systems and plasma performance. By 2035, the reactor will evolve and use a deuterium-tritium fuel mix to exhibit fusion on a commercial scale. Despite a promising success and the given timescales, an actual power plant is unlikely to be built before 2040 at the earliest.

With the fusion reactor race gaining momentum, the UK Government has announced £220m for the design of the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) fusion power station. The project is based on a “spherical” tokamak technology that is currently being pioneered at the UK’s Culhum Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) owned by UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA). With an investment of £220m to design a commercially viable fusion power plant, the UK has entered the race. The spherical tokamak design, pioneered by the UK and the US, would allow for much more compact and cheaper power plants. However, ample research is required to be performed on the upgraded Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak in the UK and the National Spherical Torus Experiment in the US.

The fusion power plant is expected to complete by 2024, and the effort will involve the creation of around 300 jobs. The UK Secretary of State for business, energy and industrial strategy says, “With this ambitious investment in the energy technology of the future, we want to be the first commercially viable machine for unlimited clean, safe, and carbon-free energy source in the UK.”

The funds are expected to be used for the final integrated design research, which includes prototyping components, carrying out materials research and robotics development, as well as computer modeling. Along with this, there are a whole series of technical areas that need to be researched and brought together to make the actual power plant more viable. Further, the cash will also assist in market analysis, site selection, and construction of test facilities. 

The Fusion community has high expectations from the ITER. If, or when ITER is successful in making an actual fusion power plant, China is expected to design and build a scaled-up version of ITER and make it cost-effective through volume. China has energy demand, resources, technical know-how, and the funds to make the project possible. However, this strategy is unfeasible in other energy markets, including the UK. Consequently, a more compact and cheaper design via the spherical tokamak looks promising.

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