To demonstrate its clean energy commitments ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, the United Kingdom (UK) recently published its national strategy on fusion energy (Fusion Strategy) alongside a paper on the proposed regulatory framework (Fusion Green Paper), making the UK the frontrunner in fusion energy legislation.  As indicated in the Prime Minister’s “Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution” published in November 2020, the UK government seeks to develop innovative technologies to end its contribution to climate change, including doubling down on the goal of being the first country to commercialize fusion energy technology.

Fusion Strategy Highlights:

The Fusion Strategy highlights the need to consider fusion energy technology in helping the UK meet emissions targets and address the increasing domestic electricity demand, which is expected to double to 570-630TWh by 2050.  The Fusion Strategy also explores how the UK could leverage its expertise to create commercially viable fusion energy, and launches the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP), a program to build a prototype fusion plant in the UK by 2040 in one of five shortlisted locations.  The Fusion Strategy highlights the importance of governmental support in creating an environment conducive to innovation in the fusion sector and outlines how the UK will invest in fusion-related high skilled jobs via the expansion of the fusion apprenticeships, setting a target of training 1000 apprentices per year in fusion-related fields by 2025.

Fusion Green Paper Highlights:

Alongside the Fusion Strategy, the Fusion Green Paper focuses on a proposed regulatory structure for fusion energy and requests public consultation on the framework.  Public consultation, similar to soliciting public comment in the U.S., will ensure fusion energy facilities are regulated appropriately and proportionately in the UK to maintain public and environmental protections, provide public assurances and enable the growth of this low carbon energy industry.  The UK intends for the Fusion Green Paper to serve as a regulatory roadmap for fusion developers to plan with confidence, and for the public to understand the basis for the Government’s approach to the regulation of the emerging technology

The UK government aims to demonstrate the commercial viability of fusion by building the STEP prototype by 2040, which it hopes will be the world’s first.

A number of fusion projects are being pursued around the world.  Notable fusion opportunities were discussed in a prior blog, as well as in our overview on fusion for space exploration.  There are a number of fusion companies in the U.S., with a couple companies currently building prototypes and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission evaluating the regulatory framework for fusion. There are also a number of fusion companies across Europe.  China is also reportedly hoping to stand up an experimental nuclear fusion reactor running by 2040.

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