- UK Government Invests £650 million in Fusion Projects
- Canadian Nuclear Laboratories and Kyoto Fusioneering Form Strategic Alliance
- Germany Allocates $1 billion Investment in Fusion
- Intel and Dell Partner with UK Atomic Energy Authority on Fusion Power Plant Digital Twin
UK Government Invests £650 million in Fusion Projects
This is following the decision to not further associate with the Euratom Research and Training program (Euratom R&T) and by extension, the Fusion for Energy Program. Delays in the progress of the ITER are one of the motivations for the change.
To deliver this package the government plans to invest up to £650 million through 2027, subject to business case approvals. This is in addition to the £126 million announced in November 2022 to support UK fusion R&D programs. Further details on the alternative programs will be set out later this year.
The new alternative fusion R&D package will include new facilities, specifically to grow new fusion fuel cycle capabilities and support innovation, and a new fusion skills development package. Additional measures include acceleration of the commercialization of fusion including boosting investments in the UKAEA Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production program.
Given delays in the direction of travel of these EU program, including the ITER, the government said in a press statement that, “an alternative approach gives the UK the best opportunity to deliver our fusion strategy by driving job creation, investment and growth in world-leading fusion sector.”
The ITER fusion project has experienced a major delay in construction due to multiple problems. The delays are a combination of the impact of COVID-19 and “technical challenges in completing first-of-a-kind components,” particularly defects discovered late last year in the thermal shields. Corrective action requires the removal and replacement of all cooling pipes, some 23 kilometers in total, from the thermal shield panels and vacuum vessel sector.
The UK government said in its statement, “today’s investment is a game-changer for the UK. 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.”
“It will also secure the country’s position as a world-leader in fusion, meaning we could become the first to commercialize this exciting new technology as a clean and secure source of energy.”
Sir Ian Chapman, CEO of the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), welcomed the announcement.
“UKAEA added that the government’s commitment to an ambitious alternative R&D program will be important in sustaining the UK’s position as a leader in fusion R&D as well as developing an industrial capability to deliver future fusion powerplants.”
US Fusion Industry Support for UK Initiative
The US Fusion Industry Association (FIA) said it welcomes the U.K. government’s ambitious new program for fusion development and commercialization as an alternative to Euratom association.
“To fully realize the benefits of fusion, national governments must now build meaningful partnerships between public and private entities to transition from scientific research to solving the remaining challenges that will make fusion energy viable. It is time to move from basic scientific research to applied commercial energy programs.”
The FIA noted that the UK is already a leader on the commercialization of fusion with plans for pilot plants, an established and clear regulatory regime, and a robust private sector. However, for more than two-and-a-half years, research funding and progress for fusion has been held up because the British Government has not had a clear idea about about UK access to EU fusion science programs and ITER.
“To alleviate this problem, in November 2021 the British government announced its intention to develop a robust program of funding and support to fusion research and development as an alternative to association with Euratom. This funding would enhance the UK’s leadership in fusion with a focus on the growth of the commercial fusion industry . . . The rest of the world is moving in this direction; last year, the US Administration announced a bold decadal vision for fusion, and in 2023, both Japan and Germany unveiled ambitious national fusion strategies.”
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Canadian Nuclear Laboratories and Kyoto Fusioneering Form Strategic Alliance
Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), and Japan’s Kyoto Fusioneering Ltd. (KF), announced a Strategic Alliance Agreement (SAA). Building on the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed in March 2023, the SAA outlines how the organizations will work together to jointly explore opportunities to accelerate the development and commercialization of fusion fuel cycle technology.
The SAA will focus on the tritium fuel supply issue for fusion reactors. A summary of the key objectives of the SAA includes;
Innovate Tritium Fuel Cycle Technologies and Systems: Advancing the readiness level of the complete tritium fuel cycle with a focus on safety, public protection, and system economics.
Support Fusion Developers in Design and Development of Pilot Plants: Proving comprehensive design, consulting, engineering, testing and technology to meet the needs of public and private fusion energy development programs globally.
Support Tritium Handling and Management: Offering insights and solutions for efficient tritium behavior control and extraction in Fusion Pilot Plant devices.
“Both CNL and KF are conducting cutting edge work to advance fusion technology, with each organization having built technical strengths in select areas,” explains Dr. Jeff Griffin, Vice-President, Science & Technology at CNL,
“By working cooperatively, we can more effectively apply this knowledge and expertise, which will ultimately better serve the needs of the market.”
Kyoto Concept For its Fusion Plant
Dr. Satoshi Konishi, Co-Founder and Chief Fusioneer at KF, adds, “Fusion energy holds transformative potential for global energy. Our partnership with CNL merges KF’s fusion technology with CNL’s tritium management expertise, positioning us to tackle some of commercial fusion power’s most critical challenges.”
UNITY-2: The Fusion Test Loop at Chalk River
Central to this collaboration is UNITY-2, a fusion test loop proposed for construction at the Chalk River Laboratories. UNITY-2 is complementary to KF’s UNITY-1 facility, announced last July. While UNITY-1 focuses on the thermal cycle system to harness heat from the fusion core, UNITY-2 focuses on demonstrating the complete fusion fuel cycle.
Designed to emulate fusion power plant conditions, UNITY-2 will be a global first, integrating a full deuterium-tritium fuel cycle. It will demonstrate fuel exhaust and pumping, direct internal recycling, fuel clean-up and isotope separation, tritium management and storage, tritium extraction from liquid metal and molten salt coolants, air and water detritiation, and reactor fueling. This facility will bolster materials, systems, and equipment development and verification.
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Germany Allocates $1 Billion Investment in Fusion
The minister announced that she would significantly increase research funding for fusion with an additional EUR370 million over the next five years. Together with funds already earmarked for research institutions, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) will provide more than one billion euros for fusion research through 2028.
The new funding program strengthens the ongoing activities of the BMBF at the Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP), the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the Research Center Jülich (FZJ).
In December 2022, BMBF set up a commission of experts to take stock of the field of laser fusion, which has so far hasn’t seen much research in Germany.
“The energy crisis has shown us how essential a clean, reliable and affordable energy supply is,” Stark-Watzinger said.
“Fusion is the huge opportunity to solve all of our energy problems. With our new funding program, we want to invest massively and in a technology-neutral way in fusion – a total of over one billion euros in the next five years. And create a fusion ecosystem with industry so that a fusion power plant in Germany becomes a reality as quickly as possible.”
Magnetic and laser fusion are equally promoted under the research program. Industry and research institutions will be expected to work together to address the technological challenges so that a fusion power plant can be built.
Critics Questions Germany’s Projected Timetable for Fusion
Not everyone is onboard with Germany’s vision for fusion energy. In a column in the Clean Energy Wire, critics took aim at the research program’s optimistic timeline for commercial fusion energy.
Clear Energy Wire reported that critics are warning that the FDP’s enthusiastic embrace of fusion is wishful thinking which detracts from immediate steps necessary to fight climate change. For instance, Germany has shuttered all of its nuclear reactors and is burning coal to keep the lights on given the intermittent nature of solar and wind power. The combination has given Germany’s consumers some of the highest electricity rates in Europe.
Stark-Watzinger was ridiculed late last year for saying that a German fusion reactor could be connected to the grid “in ten years,” a timetable considered to be unrealistic by even the most committed supporters of the technology.
Closing the Barn Door After the Horse is Gone
In August, German nuclear fusion start-up Marvel Fusion blamed a lack of government support in Europe for its decision to build a fusion facility in the United States. Marvel Fusion inked a $150M deal with Colorado State University, located in Ft. Collins, CO, located 65 miles north of Denver.
The $150 million venture creates a public-private partnership to support construction of a next-generation, high-power laser and fusion research facility on the CSU Foothills Campus. The partnership is expected to establish Fort Collins as a nexus for laser fusion research and deliver significant positive impacts to Colorado.
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Fusion Power Plant Digital Twin
Intel and Dell Technologies have announced they are working with the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and the Cambridge Open Zettascale Lab plan to build a digital twin of the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) prototype fusion power plant. The UKAEA will utilize the lab’s Dell supercomputer to streamline the development and delivery of fusion energy to the grid in the 2040s.
The system is based on Dell PowerEdge servers and Intel technologies, including 4th Gen Intel Xeon Scalable processors, distributed asynchronous object storage (DAOS) and oneAPI tools. The UKAEA said the engineering designs of STEP, located in Nottinghamshire, will be developed in an immersive virtual industrial metaverse — a digital twin. The collaboration will explore how exascale-class supercomputers and AI with predictive capabilities can deliver a digital twin of the STEP design.
By working within the digital twin’s modeling and simulation capabilities, the UKAEA team can adapt their design as new information becomes available and technologies are developed.
Intel said that oneAPI, which allows developers to use a single codebase to deploy applications across multiple architectures, is designed to address a major inhibitor of simulation functionality and performance: code portability.
Intel’s oneAPI tools and AI frameworks support deep learning and molecular dynamics. As a oneAPI Center of Excellence, the Cambridge Open Zettascale Lab plans to broaden this application set to include engineering, fusion materials and plasma simulation.
Storage speed is another potential roadblock in fusion research, which involves large simulations running across thousands of GPU nodes and then transferring large amounts of data for fast post-simulation analysis. A single plasma turbulence simulation can output hundreds of petabytes of data in a short window. Intel DAOS is an open source, software-defined, scale-out object store containers for HPC applications. For fusion research, it is designed for rapid analysis and calculations.
Rendering of the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production Prototype Fusion Power Plant
Fusion energy has the potential to provide near limitless and highly sustainable energy, but a functioning fusion power plant that can deliver energy to the grid is still years away. Engineering a new breed of power plant requires advanced tools and massive amounts of modeling and simulations. As they work toward the functioning fusion facility, UKAEA and the Cambridge Open Zettascale Lab will use supercomputing and a “digital twin,” or prototype, of the STEP machine design to accelerate engineering and help future-proof progress, even as things evolve.
“Planning for the commercialization of fusion power requires organizations like UKAEA to utilize extreme amounts of computational resources and artificial intelligence for simulations,” said Adam Roe, Intel EMEA HPC technical director.
“These HPC workloads may be performed using a variety of different architectures, which is why open software solutions that optimize performance needs can lend portability to code that isn’t available in closed, proprietary systems. Overall, advanced hardware and software can make the journey to commercial fusion power lower risk and accelerated – a key benefit on the path to sustainable energy.”
“I firmly believe the future of sustainable energy will rely upon supercomputing,” said Rob Akers, director of Computing Programs, UKAEA. “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.”
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