General Fusion and UKAEA outline further fusion collaboration

18 October 2022

Canada’s General Fusion and the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) will collaborate on projects to "advance the commercialisation of magnetised target fusion energy".

General Fusion's vision for its plant of the future (Image: General Fusion)

The projects will help "hone" the design of General Fusion’s demonstration machine being built at the UK’s "fusion cluster" at Culham, near Oxford.

Greg Twinney, CEO of General Fusion, said: "The leading-edge fusion researchers at UKAEA have proven experience building, commissioning, and successfully operating large fusion machines. Partnering with UKAEA’s incredible team will fast-track work to advance our technology and achieve our mission of delivering affordable commercial fusion power to the world."

Ian Chapman, CEO of UKAEA, said: "Fusion energy is one of the greatest scientific and engineering quests of our time. This collaboration will enable General Fusion to benefit from the ground-breaking research being done in the UK and supports our shared aims of making fusion part of the world’s future energy mix for generations to come."

Since its founding in 2002, General Fusion has formed more than 200,000 hydrogen plasmas. In its collaboration with the UKAEA the company will "harness UKAEA’s extensive neutron modelling software and expertise to simulate the neutron flux distribution from General Fusion’s operational large-scale plasma injector as well as future machines".

General Fusion is based in Vancouver, Canada, with locations in Oak Ridge, Tennessee in the USA and in London in the UK. In announcing the collaboration it said it benefits from the UKAEA’s expertise in building polychromators, used to measure electron temperature. "The UKAEA will be building a new, larger Thomson Scattering system which will be installed on General Fusion’s fusion demonstration machine at Culham," it added.

The UKAEA carries out fusion energy research on behalf of the UK government, overseeing the country’s fusion programme, including the MAST Upgrade (Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak) experiment as well as hosting the JET - Joint European Tourus - at Culham, which is operated for scientists from around Europe.

General Fusion's Magnetised Target Fusion approach involves injecting hydrogen plasma into a liquid metal sphere, where it is compressed and heated so that fusion occurs. The heat from the fusion of the hydrogen atoms is transferred into the liquid metal. This is different to the tokamak approach, which is used in JET and MAST Upgrade, but General Fusion and UKAEA said, when they announced last year that General Fusion was going to build its demonstration plant at Culham, that they intend to collaborate on a range of fusion energy technologies for power plant design and operation.

General Fusion says its approach to fusion "maximises the reapplication of existing industrialised technologies, bypassing the need for expensive superconducting magnets, significant new materials, or high-power lasers".

The announcement coincided with the first day of Fusion22, a conference for the industry organised by the UKAEA in London, which is focusing on the steps needed to develop a fusion industry, with the UK seeking to build on its established fusion research and resources and help make fusion energy a reality within the next few years.

Earlier this month the UKAEA announced that its newly completed GBP10 million (USD11.4 million) extension has doubled the size of its Materials Research Facility (MRF) at Culham. Specialist materials that can withstand extreme conditions are a critical part of delivering fusion energy as a safe, sustainable, low carbon energy supply, the UKAEA said. They are also essential in the development of STEP (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production), the UK's prototype fusion power plant. The investment has seen an additional 12 shielded research rooms, used to hold high-end analytical instrumentation, added to the facility, as well as extensive new active chemical laboratory space, for scientists and engineers to develop more neutron-tolerant materials.

The UK also recently announced the selection of a site at West Burton in Nottinghamshire to host the STEP demonstration plant, which is due to begin operating by 2040. And last week the UKAEA and Tokamak Energy signed a five-year framework agreement for closer collaboration "on developing spherical tokamaks as a route to commercial fusion energy".

Researched and written by World Nuclear News