Why the UK needs a comprehensive industry strategy for fusion
In the quest to achieve NetZero, decision-makers are faced with the challenge of accelerating decarbonisation, while ensuring growth and job creation.
Fusion developers are playing their part in addressing these challenges by unlocking the transformative potential of this energy source, which is the process that powers the stars.
If deployed globally at scale, fusion could provide the planet with safe, clean, limitless energy that comes with none of the risk or hazardous waste associated with nuclear fission, the bedrock of conventional nuclear reactors.
Fusion will be the dominant source of energy in the next century, but we need it to happen much sooner.
Once the technology has been developed, fusion reactors will benefit from decreasing capital costs as the rate of deployment increases. Modular design and manufacture will accelerate this cost reduction.
Currently, there is a small group of leading global fusion companies backed by a combination of private and public finance, that is accelerating their efforts to develop advanced commercial fusion reactors.
Investors recognise this potential and have invested c. $2bn in private sector commercial fusion over the past decade – more than has gone into similar fission-based initiatives.
Fusion Industry Supply Chain Opportunities
There will be a range of direct technology and indirect component and equipment provision opportunities, across a new fusion supply chain in the UK and globally.
Spin-out opportunities are emerging for exciting technologies, such as high temperature superconducting magnets that can be commercialised today.
These magnets not only hold plasma in place, enabling fusion to take place at temperatures hotter than the centre of the sun, but also offer exciting potential for applications in other industries, such as space and electric aircraft, in addition to other high-tech areas, such as particle accelerators.
Strong UK Government Backing
Last week I welcomed the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Kwasi Kwarteng, to Tokamak Energy’s Oxfordshire HQ and presented our plans not just to become the first company in the world to commercialise fusion, but also our ground-breaking technology, such as the HTS magnets – among the world’s most powerful.
Strong UK Government support for fusion is crucial to enabling the UK to become a world leader in the sector.
This extends from the current R&D tax credit programme, to providing clear policy guidelines for how the sector is regulated, the competitive environment, support for the emerging supply chain and other related incentives to attract world class human resources and capital.
The Government’s support and commitment to a UK fusion industry enables us to plan further expansion in our facilities and teams. This boosts the opportunities for our extensive supply chain partners.
The Government should be applauded for its efforts to date. It has invested in basic fusion research for decades through JET (Joint European Torus) and the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy. This has laid a solid foundation for companies, such as Tokamak Energy, to grow. In fact, the UK still leads the world in fusion research, despite advances from the US, China and elsewhere.
The Government’s commitment last year to the STEP programme (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production), which aims to design and construct a prototype fusion energy plant targeting operations around 2040, is far-reaching and ambitious, but is at risk of not being developed in time to address its 2050 carbon targets.
The UK Regulatory Horizon Council’s Report in May that outlines a tailored, yet agile, approach for regulating fusion is also welcome.
Why the UK needs a robust fusion industry strategy
With COP26 taking place in Glasgow in November and a deep pool of world-class engineers, scientists and innovators, the UK has a once-in-a-century opportunity to shape the fusion industry and revolutionise the future of global energy.
To do this, the UK needs a comprehensive fusion industry strategy to integrate public and private initiatives and to convert its global lead in fusion energy into a sustained global competitive advantage, with technological and commercial success.
I would like to see a UK fusion industry strategy that recognises the importance of the technological pathways that private fusion and its various applications can rapidly develop, as we build towards the goal of limitless, clean energy.
I would like to see a stand-alone strategy that considers the incredible opportunity that this already growing sector can deliver not just for jobs, innovation, and domestic energy security, but also as a long-term export industry.
As the country builds back better, we will increasingly rely on private companies to create technologies such as advanced magnets, innovative new materials, control systems, advanced robotics and AI that will deliver key advantages to the UK in the long-term, across different sectors.
For this we need to see a strategy that also fosters the creation of more collaborative partnerships between the Government’s initiatives in fusion and the ground-breaking work of private companies.
Greater collaboration between the private and public sectors will not only deliver innovation gains.
By working with industry to define a comprehensive fusion strategy, Government will provide confidence to global investors seeking to diversify their low carbon portfolios, thereby unlocking large-scale investment that private fusion developers need to accelerate their work.
It is time to focus on fusion.
This article was written by Chris Kelsall, CEO of Tokamak Energy.