Atkins awarded design contract for fusion energy research centre

27 April 2021

Atkins, part of the SNC-Lavalin Group, said on 21 April that it had been appointed by the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) to help design the world's first centre for researching tritium for use in fusion energy. The Hydrogen-3 Advanced Technology (H3AT) facility will be built at Culham Science Centre in Oxfordshire and will support ongoing work at the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) under construction in the South of France. This activity will also allow academic and industrial users to research how to process, store and recycle tritium, one of the fuels that will supply fusion power stations.

Atkins - supported by supply chain partners including Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, Ansaldo Nuclear, and FlexProcess - will deliver the preliminary and detailed design of the H3AT tritium recycling loop, comprising storage beds, a distribution system, impurity processing system, and systems to detritiate water and air. Designed to facilitate the handling, testing and validation of tritium, the loop will allow a range of tests and experiments to be carried out safely and efficiently.

The H3AT facility will provide access to scientists and researchers to inform tritium processes for future fusion programmes including: ITER; its successor, the DEMOnstration Power Plant, which will move fusion energy a step closer to production on an industrial scale; and UKAEA's Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) - an ambitious programme to design and build a prototype fusion power plant, targeting operations around 2040.

Steve Wheeler, Director of UKAEA's Fusion Technology business unit, said: 'H3AT is a truly unique facility to support UK science and the development of fusion fuel cycle technology. Atkins will bring proven engineering design capability to the delivery group, in addition to the valuable expertise of their supply chain partners.'

Atkins supports UKAEA across its major programmes through its position as an Engineering Design Services (EDS) framework supplier and has recently won two contracts on the STEP programme. It is also architect engineer for ITER as part of the Engage consortium and is involved in numerous nuclear new build projects around the world.

Meanwhile, UKAEA said it has completed a pilot project, the ‘Fusion Innovation Challenge’, working with five companies to tackle some of fusion energy’s most complex challenges. Following the success of the pilot, UKAEA plans to open up more innovation challenges beyond the framework as it strengthens collaboration with the private sector to accelerate fusion development.

UKAEA set out a series of challenges and invited companies to submit their approaches using original ideas or successful tech- or engineering-led solutions adapted from other fields. The initial GBP350,000 ($486,434) scheme saw 11 contracts on eight topics awarded to Atkins, Frazer-Nash Consultancy, IDOM, Jacobs, and M5Tec, who collaborated with other members of the supply chain, including both industrial and research organisations.

The series of challenges tackled in the project ranged from new approaches to: machinery capable of operating in the strong magnetic fields in ‘tokamak’ fusion devices; construction of bioshields for fusion plants; designs for transferring heat in pipes within the tokamak complex; and more. The pilot project has produced new technologies that address these challenges. It has also shown the value of transferring expertise from other sectors and looking at fusion development from new perspectives.

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