Memorandum submitted by the United Kingdom
Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA)
1. Fusion research and development in the
UK is co-ordinated, and mostly carried out by the UKAEA at Culham
Science Centre in Oxfordshire and, as the major centre for fusion
research in the UK, we have prepared this submission.
2. The following briefly addresses the specific
areas of interest described by the House of Commons Science and
Technology Committee announcement of the inquiry into non-carbon
energy sources. The areas of interest are reproduced in bold type,
followed by our response. This is followed in an Appendix by a
more detailed discussion of some of the points for further information.
3. To evaluate the level of expenditure
on RD&D in non-carbon energy technologies, by UK government,
the Research Councils, the Carbon Trust and industry, and where
it is being directed.
4. The present level of UK government spend,
via the Office of Science and Technology, on fusion is approximately
£15 million of which £6 million is the premium paid
to host JET, the European experiment sited at Culham. Jet is the
world's largest fusion experiment and is primarily supported by
European funding, both from EURATOM and direct from other European
states. JET represents the main-line in fusion development. The
UK funding further supports the research on a smaller device known
as MAST, also located at Culham. This device serves as a research
and training facility whilst also looking for improvements in
technology that can benefit fusion development as a whole.
5. To identify which technologies are,
or should be, receiving support, and how much investment is directed
at research, development and demonstration respectively.
6. Fusion is one of the very few energy
options which, through RD&D, can lead to a major new non-carbon
energy source with a very large resource base, without leading
to other safety or environmental concerns. At a time when the
exploitation of low carbon energy sources appears imperative,
it is essential that such major sources of energy are developed.
7. Fusion development is justified primarily
by the major environmental and safety benefits of fusion power,
as well as its widespread resources. This is not further elaborated
here since it is the non-carbon aspect of the technology that
is of primary interest: however these benefits are described in
more detail in Appendix 1, under the headings Security of Supply
and Climate Change and Broader Environmental Issues.
8. As fusion approaches the power plant
scale it is increasingly moving from research, through development
towards demonstration. The main line of fusion research, epitomised
by JET, is primarily aimed at fusion development although some
amount of basic research is still carried out. In addition, there
are other smaller research machines around the world, one of which
is in the UK, which are aimed at investigating ways to improve
fusion development as well as serving as research and training
facilities. Although the emphasis on the different aspect of fusion
varies between countries, the next stage in fusion development,
an international project called ITER, is primarily aimed at demonstrating
large levels of fusion power as well as large net energy gain.
This takes it more into the area of demonstration and further
from basic research.
9. To assess the skills base and the
state of RD&D for different technologies.
10. With the siting of JET in the UK and
the European funding that goes with it, we are in a very fortunate
position of having a wide skills base in fusion development. The
UK fusion programme makes every effort to involve UK industry
in the international fusion programme, to benefit the UK as a
whole. There are corresponding benefits to the UK scientific community.
11. Fusion has reached the stage of significant
power production with 16 MW of fusion power produced. To go to
higher powers and to achieve large net power production, the next
generation of fusion device is needed. This is already designed
as an international collaboration, ITER, which will produce hundreds
of megawatts of power: that is, on the scale of a power plant,
There are four sites proposed for the construction of ITER, one
in Japan, one in Canada, one in Spain and one in France. The political
decision to select the best site and proceed with construction
is now awaited. Political support from UK government will be very
important at this stage, not only to develop fusion but also for
the UK to gain most benefit for our industrial and scientific
12. For fusion to profess to commercial
exploitation it is also necessary to optimise the promising candidate
fusion power station materials that already exist. These will
be important in preventing the production of long lived radioactive
waste and allowing recycling of almost all of the materials used
in a power plant. These materials have been tested as far as is
presently practicable, but further optimisation will require the
construction of a dedicated materials test facility. Although
this is not a dominant cost item for the fusion programme, it
still requires international collaboration and is less advanced
than the ITER programme. Again, political support from UK government
will be necessary, and should include considering a site proposal
for an international materials test facility. These issues are
described further in Appendix 1 under the sections headed International
Aspects and Nuclear Issues.
13. To establish how government policy
on energy RD&D is formulated, implemented and evaluated, and
the nature of co-ordination between department, external agencies
14. Because of the strategic nature of energy
research and the strong international dimension of fusion development,
it is important that there is a strategic involvement of government
in setting the research objectives and time-scales. A piecemeal
approach, in which individual elements of the research were approved
independently by peer review for instance, would reduce the focus
on the development of a new energy source and jeopardise the leverage
obtained through strong international collaboration.
15. To establish the level of and rationale
for international collaboration in energy RD&D and how priorities
16. To proceed with the demonstration of
fusion it has been increasingly necessary to promote international
collaboration. This is because the current fusion research budget
of any of the individual countries in the fusion programme is
insufficient to construct devices on the scale of a power plant.
17. The need to pool resources and expertise
has driven fusion international collaboration, firstly in Europe
and more recently with most of the developed world. The European
programme has been run for many years as a closely integrated
and co-ordinated Europe-wide programme supplemented by collaborations
with other countries outside Europe. With the introduction of
ITER design work, the world fusion programme has become a more
formally co-ordinated endeavour. This level of collaboration will
have to continue and increase if fusion is to be demonstrated
as a viable technology whilst at the same time not increasing
the research budget. More details can be found in Appendix 1 under
the heading International Aspects.
18. To examine the effect on energy RD&D
of privatisation, liberalisation, regulation and changes in ownership
in the sector.
19. We have no comments.
20. To make comparisons with overseas
21. Because of the highly international
nature of the fusion programme, it is easy for us to make these
comparisons. In spite of having the world's largest fusion facility,
Europe's JET experiment, sited in the UK, our domestic fusion
programme has continuously declined over the last 20 years and
is now one of the smallest in the developed world when measured
as a fraction of GDP.
22. In comparison with other countries our
expenditure as a fraction of GDP is 33% of the European average,
and only 20% of the German value.
23. In the wider context, the UK fusion
programme as a percentage of GDP is approximately four times lower
than that in Japan. Even in comparison with the US where fusion
research budgets are at historically low levels, it is 40% lower
as a fraction of GDP. It is hoped that the present low levels
of US expenditure will be increased and there are clear indications
that the US administration are considering such a step. Even in
emerging economies such as Korea, there is a large fusion spend,
justified by their vision that dependence on fossil fuels will
have to end. These issues are discussed further in Appendix 1,
under the heading International Aspects.
24. Overall, the UK spend on fusion lags
behind almost every other developed nation. When JET closes down,
as is expected within five years, the UK skills base will be lost
unless UK funding increases.
25. The UK continues to play a large role
in the international fusion programme, with our siting of the
world's largest fusion experiment, JET, and the European funding
that goes with it, playing a key part in shaping that role. This
has led to the build up of a very valuable skills base.
26. Fusion powers of 16 megawatts have been
demonstrated. To move to the hundreds of megawatts level, a new
fusion device is needed. This is already designed as an international
collaboration, ITER, and decisions at the political level on siting
and construction are awaited.
27. In spite of the UK's large role in fusion
development, the level of UK fusion funding has continuously declined
over the last 20 years and is now one of the lowest in the developed
world, as a fraction of GDP. With fusion's environmental, safety
and resource advantages, particularly as a non-carbon source of
energy, with the recent success in fusion development and the
existence of a clear way forward for the international fusion
programme, now is an ideal time to reverse the decline in the
level of funding.
(1) UK government should continue to strongly
support ITER, pressing for an early decision on its siting and
(2) As a major participant in ITER, the
benefit to the UK as a whole should be maximised through continued
involvement of the academic, technological and industrial communities.
(3) UK government should continue to support
the development of fusion materials, taking a lead role in progressing
an international materials test facility and considering the possibility
of a UK site.