UK announces plans for new £22m nuclear fusion research centre

18 Sep 2019

Image: © Korn V./

The UK government is hoping to play an instrumental role in the race to stable nuclear fusion with the opening of a new research centre.

The potential of harnessing the power of the sun in a small reactor to produce near-limitless, cheap, clean energy through nuclear fusion is something that has long been sought after. While there is much debate around the topic and whether a stable fusion reactor is even achievable, it hasn’t stopped national research agencies aiming to be the first to succeed.

To that end, the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) has announced plans to build a £22m nuclear fusion research centre on the outskirts of Rotherham. The site will create 40 jobs, with the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (NAMRC) expected to collaborate on the project.

It will be sited at the Advanced Manufacturing Park, where existing occupiers include Rolls-Royce, McLaren Automotive and both the AMRC and NAMRC.

‘A practical step towards developing power plants’

In a statement, the UKAEA said the key role of the facility will be to develop and test technologies for fusion materials and components, such as novel metals and ceramics. These will be tested and evaluated under conditions simulating the inside of a fusion reactor, such as strong magnetic fields.

Through this testing, the hope is that UK companies working with fusion technology can win contracts as part of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor project. This is an international collaboration aiming to build one of the most advanced fusion test reactors in the south of France.

It is also hoped that these companies can further hone and experiment with this ‘holy grail’ of energy technologies to develop fusion power plants.

“Momentum is growing in fusion research and we believe the opening of this facility in south Yorkshire represents a practical step towards developing power plants,” said Colin Walters, director of the UK national fusion technology platform at UKAEA.

“This facility will provide fantastic opportunities for UK businesses to win contracts and put UKAEA in a great position to help deliver the necessary expertise for the first nuclear fusion power stations.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic