General Fusion to kick-start UK Nuclear Fusion industry

By Dominic Ellis
The Fusion Demonstration plant will demonstrate General Fusion’s Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF) technology and backers include Amazon's Jeff Bezos

General Fusion is to build and operate its Fusion Demonstration Plant at the UK Atomic Energy Authority's Culham campus. The plant will demonstrate General Fusion’s proprietary Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF) technology, paving the way for a commercial pilot plant.

General Fusion will benefit from the cluster of fusion supply chain activities in the UK, centered on UKAEA’s expertise.

Amanda Solloway, Science Minister for UK Government said: “This new plant by General Fusion is a huge boost for our plans to develop a fusion industry in the UK, and I’m thrilled that Culham will be home to such a cutting-edge and potentially transformative project. Fusion energy has great potential as a source of limitless, low-carbon energy, and today’s announcement is a clear vote of confidence in the region and the UK’s status as a global science superpower.”

The plant marks the culmination of more than a decade of advances in General Fusion’s technology, and represents a major milestone on the company’s path to commercialisation. It will verify that General Fusion’s MTF technology can create fusion conditions in a practical and cost-effective manner at power plant relevant scales, as well as refine the economics of fusion energy production, leading to the subsequent design of a commercial fusion pilot plant. Construction is anticipated to begin in 2022, with operations beginning approximately three years later.

General Fusion and UKAEA intend to collaborate on a range of fusion energy technologies for power plant design and operation. Among the 10 investors listed in General Fusion is Bezos Expeditions, which manages Jeff Bezos' personal investments. 

“Coming to Culham gives us the opportunity to benefit from UKAEA’s expertise,” stated Christofer Mowry, CEO, General Fusion. “By locating at this campus, General Fusion expands our market presence beyond North America into Europe, broadening our global network of government, institutional, and industrial partners. This is incredibly exciting news for not only General Fusion, but also the global effort to develop practical fusion energy.”

The Culham Campus, the home of the UK’s national fusion research programme, is owned and managed by UKAEA, widely recognized as a world leader in fusion energy development and innovation.

“This is a great development for UKAEA, very much in line with our mission to lead the development of sustainable fusion energy, and builds on our long heritage of hosting major fusion facilities such as the Joint European Torus,” said Ian Chapman, CEO of UKAEA.

After a decade of design and fabrication, General Atomics is ready to ship the first module of the Central Solenoid, billed as 'the world’s most powerful magnet'. It will become a central component of ITER, a machine that replicates the fusion power of the Sun. ITER is being built in southern France by 35 partner countries.

ITER’s mission is to prove energy from hydrogen fusion can be created and controlled on earth. Fusion energy is carbon-free, safe and economic. The materials to power society with hydrogen fusion for millions of years are readily abundant.

Despite the challenges of Covid-19, ITER is almost 75 percent built. For the past 15 months, massive first-of-a-kind components have begun to arrive in France from three continents. When assembled together, they will make up the ITER Tokamak, a “sun on earth” to demonstrate fusion at industrial scale.

A McKinsey paper notes that nuclear fusion is "promising" and could be 20 times more efficient than fission. "However, uncertainty still exists about the viability of the technology - which is precisely what has been said since the 1950s."

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