The world's largest nuclear fusion project plans to restart without the UK

Luc Williams

Britain's membership of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project ended earlier this year when the country dropped out of the European Atomic Energy Community, or Euratom. Efforts to find a compromise solution have stalled. Now the UK has announced that is preparing an amount of £600 million to attract investors willing to build a competitive prototype.

Meanwhile, informal talks on an agreement on continued cooperation with Great Britain are ongoing. ITER spokesman Laban Coblentz said the proposal would need to be agreed by the other project members: China, the European Union, India, Japan, Russia and South Korea. But for now, “nothing has been proposed,” he said.

ITER was originally expected to cost around $5 billion and begin testing in 2020. The budget exceeded $22 billion, and no date has been set for testing.

How ITER plans to achieve nuclear fusion / Bloomberg

The UK was an original member of ITER and a key science developer for the project. The Joint European Torus in Oxford provided key data and staff familiar with fusion reactors. In 2016, John Wood Group Plc won a $193 million contract to manage the construction of ITER.

Great Britain wants to launch its own thermonuclear reactor

Tenders for ITER will no longer be open to UK businesses, however Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's government intends to continue work on thermonuclear technology.

“Over the next two weeks we will begin the search for industrial partners in engineering and construction,” said Paul Methven, chief executive of UK Industrial Fusion Solutions Ltd., the company appointed to oversee construction of the prototype plant. “We will develop an industry that will be able to provide commercial nuclear fusion for decades,” he added.

The ITER delay means the project financed by private companies such as Commonwealth Fusion Systems LLC and Tokamak Energy Ltd., which use smaller versions of the same reactor, could overtake a giant project being built in southern France. Testing of a smaller design prototype could begin later this decade.

Fusion is a process that is powered by solar energy and can theoretically generate unlimited clean energy.


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