Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by UKAEA


  The vision is one in which Culham:

    —  is a key site in the "fast track" development of power from fusion as a clean widespread base-load energy source;

    —  progressively expands its programme on the materials and technology research required for power generation, whilst maintaining a strong core programme in those areas of plasma science necessary for the success of the "fast track"; and

    —  promotes the involvement of UK industry and universities in the development of fusion power to put the UK in a strong position to benefit from its eventual commercial exploitation.

  The UK is fortunate in having at the Culham Science Centre in Oxfordshire world-leading skills needed to operate and exploit fusion devices. This is partly because, largely at others' expense, it operates JET[22] and participates in its research programme—JET is Europe's flagship device and the only one worldwide to use the deuterium-tritium fuel mix. Another lead is in the spherical tokamak concept—tested at Culham on the MAST device—which has the potential to be both a suitable device for testing fusion power plant components and, in the longer-term, a high-power-density power station in its own right. These projects are carried out in an efficient, effective and safe manner using UKAEA's well-established management systems.

  The international ITER project will allow fusion development to move from concentrating on plasma science to integrating this science with the technology necessary for a power plant. In parallel, as part of the "fast track" to fusion power, the candidate materials must be tested in the IFMIF facility under the sustained neutron bombardment conditions typical of a fusion power plant.

  Our present expectation is that JET will continue to operate until the end of 2005. Beyond then it will reduce or stop completely as European funding switches to ITER construction. Culham's fusion income will fall to a quarter of its present level unless there is additional funding (see Annex). Since fusion expertise resides as much in JET operations as in the UK programme, it will be very difficult to retain it all when JET operations end. Before then, it is important to have a long-term plan for how the UK can retain its leading position. This plan should include preparing UK industry for the eventual commercialisation of fusion power.

  UKAEA believes that Culham's programme should be aligned to the greatest extent practicable with the fast track approach to fusion power. Specifically, it should:

  A.  Do everything possible to keep ITER on track and maximise its cost-effectiveness.

    —  Maintain and train the experimental, theoretical and engineering skills which will be needed to use ITER, so that when operations start ITER "hits the ground running" with strong UK involvement.

    —  Build some of the essential heating, measurement and plasma control systems for ITER (it is expected that EURATOM will pay for much of this).

    —  Second staff to ITER teams during both construction and operation periods (it is expected that EURATOM will pay for this).

  B.  Increasingly shift the emphasis of research from the plasma science of fusion systems, to the technology and materials required to use this science in a fusion power station, maximising the involvement of UK universities and industry.

  C.  Seek European operation of JET beyond 2005 as long as this is a cost-effective way of contributing to the "fast track" development of fusion.

    —  It is possible that this would require increased UK resources given the concentration of EURATOM funding on ITER construction.

    —  Culham should seek opportunities for the JET programme to focus more on technology and on materials issues (specifically plasma-materials interactions)

    —  When operations do end, the contributions JET decommissioning makes to fusion development (especially in waste treatment) should be maximised.

  D.  Consider options for a major facility of strategic value to the "fast track" when JET operations end.

    —  Ideally, this would have an emphasis on both materials/technology and fusion plasma science, and might be based on results from the MAST spherical tokamak.

    —  JET infrastructure should be used where possible (this will require EURATOM permission), though options may be limited while the present machine is being decommissioned.

    —  Such a facility is likely to require substantial funding from the UK and if possible Europe and a decision-point is some years away.

  E.  In the meantime, get the most out of MAST, and consider upgrading it to longer pulses and higher plasma currents (and therefore better performance) Tasks are:

    —  To provide as much information as possible for ITER.

    —  To maintain the UK's lead in the spherical tokamak concept.

    —  To determine whether the spherical tokamak has any specific major technical difficulties which might prevent a sustained burning plasma for either component testing or electricity generation.

  F.  Take advantage of fusion's new home in OST and EPSRC to integrate Culham more fully into the UK science and technology base, with a main objective being to involve industry and universities in all aspects of fusion development.

  G.  Take opportunities to apply Culham's skills and facilities to other areas of plasma science and to non-plasma research.

    —  This can only work if key stakeholders—particularly appropriate universities—are cultivated and synergies with fusion are maximised. This will now be easier from within the Research Council system.

  It is very important that no changes are made or initiatives started that threaten an international fast track strategy in which the major fusion programmes would have complementary, rather than competing, facilities. For the moment, Culham has to keep its options open as it is not clear which types of facility Europe will host nor the research areas it will lead. This will depend on where ITER is sited.

December 2002

21   NB The views expressed are solely those of UKAEA. Back

22   This and other terms are defined in a brief glossary at the end of this paper. Back

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