Magnetic Research Fusion Programme 2019-2022

Lead Research Organisation: EURATOM/CCFE
Department Name: Culham Centre for Fusion Energy

Abstract

CCFE's mission is to harness the fusion process that powers the sun by using magnetic fields in order to develop a large-scale carbon-free energy source and position the UK to be a leading provider in the international fusion energy economy. Fusion has the potential to be an important component of the portfolio of measures needed to ensure a secure, environmentally responsible, supply of energy. CCFE is a major player in a global collaboration aimed at producing a commercial-scale fusion demonstration reactor (DEMO), which will be preceded by the demonstration of the first self-sustaining plasmas in ITER, the next-step international fusion experiment under construction in France. CCFE operates the world's largest tokamak, JET, under contract to EURATOM, as well as being pioneers of the spherical tokamak, with an exciting upgrade to the UK facility MAST becoming operational in 2017. JET is unarguably the best facility for preparation for ITER, whilst MAST Upgrade is a uniquely capable machine for understanding and developing ways to exhaust the heat in DEMO. This strength in tokamak physics is complemented by growing, internationally-leading programmes in materials science, fusion technology and remote maintenance.
The CCFE strategy is aligned with the EU fusion programme, with all the science and technology benefits that brings, as well as access to facilities and substantial EU funding leveraged by our UK funding. The JET contribution supported by this grant (~£9M pa) leverages the JET Operating Contract worth ~£45M pa. Furthermore, we expect the remainder of the programme to leverage nearly 40% extra funding from the EU.
Whilst the successful operation of ITER remains the first major goal of the fusion community, there are big issues for realising fusion electricity in materials and technology. These are also the areas with greater synergies with other fields. Reflecting this, the UK has invested ~£10M via NNUF (National Nuclear User Facility) in a nuclear Maials Research Facility (MRF), opened at CCFE in 2016. The MRF is aligned with, and will receive funding from, the Sir Henry Royce Institute materials initiative. Fusion and fission materials science and technology capabilities have grown in both theory & modelling, experiments and manufacturing. We are growing a programme in materials technology (including advanced manufacturing and component prototyping) with several universities and industrial partners. The Oxford City Deal has provided ~£10M for a new building for the centre for Remote Applications in Challenging Environments (RACE), opened in 2016, building on expertise from maintenance of JET for spin-out to other industries as well as keeping the UK at the forefront of fusion remote maintenance. Further opportunities arising from collaborations with non-fusion fields such as fission, aerospace and data-intensive computing through H2020 projects are being exploited, to mutual benefit.
The four main drivers of our programme are (i) to ensure a leading position for the UK in the first burning plasmas in ITER; (ii) to develop integrated nuclear fusion power plant designs; (iii) to innovate in order to drive down the capital and operational cost of fusion reactors; and (iv) to exploit synergies to further UK interests and develop UK skills and growth. Finally, we will maintain our excellent apprentice training (the Oxford Advanced Skills centre is due to open in 2017) and PhD supervision, whilst increasing our post-doc intake to provide a career path for development of the ITER generation, benefitting from the top students trained in the UK.

Planned Impact

Supporting a world leading R&D programme in magnetic confinement will position the UK at the forefront of the future fusion energy economy, which has the potential to provide abundant, carbon-free energy. Whilst the EU roadmap is to have the first fusion electricity produced 20 years after ITER reaches Q=10, the CCFE programme makes valuable near-term contributions to UK prosperity, in economic growth, the UK skills base and reducing cost and risk of nuclear power:

Economic Growth - ITER represents a continuing opportunity for the UK, and CCFE will assist UK industry to win contracts. To date, EUR400M has been awarded to UK industry, most of which has been facilitated by our sector-specific world-leading expertise. We are targeting EUR1bn for the UK from ITER. In the future, DEMO represents a new opportunity for UK industry - at present the work is likely to be mainly part-funded and EPSRC funds are needed to establish the UK position in future fully-funded opportunities for industry. China has also announced its intention to develop an ITER-scale device called CFETR (Chinese Fusion Energy Test Reactor) rapidly. CCFE has established relations with key Chinese fusion labs who particularly value our expertise in robotics and materials. Our fusion connections with China provide a gateway to fission opportunities.
By helping to secure ITER contracts for UK industrial partners we will transfer technology and know-how into the industrial supply line, increasing capability for developing/supplying fusion power stations as well as a vehicle to transfer fusion technology into other markets, such as fission, aerospace, and oil & gas. We are pursuing opportunities for spin-offs from fusion to other fields, notably in materials and robotics.

Skills - UKAEA has key R&D nuclear skills, recognised in the Beddington review of 2013 following a House of Lords inquiry. Our programme tackles key technology issues for the next steps in fusion which are relevant to fission new-build, including design opportunities for Small Modular Reactors and next generation fission reactors. Training is also a major focus, with strong links to several CDTs (notably in fusion led by York) contributing to training the next generation of fusion scientists and technologists. UKAEA itself also has an outstanding apprentice programme (winning many national awards) and a significant programme in training graduate engineers.

Finally, we will contribute to the EPSRC mission to "Generate public awareness, Communicate research outcomes, and Encourage public engagement and dialogue" through (i) Public outreach - we hold open events at Culham for up to 1000 people per year; attend local (Oxfordshire) and National Science Festivals (aspiring to exhibit at the Royal Society Summer Exhibition in the grant period); give external talks; guide ~200 visits to CCFE per year; increase social media presence (Twitter, Facebook) and host websites (www.ukaea.uk; www.ccfe.ac.uk, etc); (ii) Education outreach - our dedicated schools days allow up to 2000 KS4 students to visit Culham whilst the Sun Dome activity (originally funded by EPSRC grants) will continue to visit KS2 (primary) pupils. New KS3 (11-14 year old secondary students) activities soon to be launched, based on an interactive fusion website with virtual tours, video content etc.; (iii) Public Affairs - we will continue to visit and brief key UK and European stakeholders; and (iv) Media - we will accommodate most media requests for interviews and filming to disseminate UK research worldwide.

Publications

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