US and UK form strategic partnership to advance fusion energy

14 November 2023

Following talks in Washington between US Deputy Secretary of Energy David M Turk and the UK Minister for Nuclear & Networks, Andrew Bowie a new strategic partnership was established to advance fusion energy. “The US Department of Energy (DOE) and the UK Department for Energy Security & Net Zero (DESNZ) said in a statement that they had “decided to form a major new strategic partnership to accelerate the demonstration and commercialization of fusion energy”. This partnership will focus on advancing the US Bold Decadal Vision for Commercial Fusion Energy and the UK’s Fusion Strategy.

While fusion energy could provide a low-carbon, safe, sustainable and reliable energy supply with the potential to enhance energy security and resilience, it “will require appropriate regulatory, social and market policies, alongside overcoming significant technical challenges”, the statement noted.

The new partnership builds on a long history of collaborative efforts in fusion energy research and development, supported predominantly in the US through the DOE Office of Science’s Fusion Energy Sciences programme and in the UK through the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA). This includes the UKAEA-Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory Fusion Fellowships as well as research on the MAST-U tokamak in the UK and the DIII-D National Fusion Facility in the US.

“This new partnership aims to recognise and develop the complementarity between US and UK resources and facilities in fusion, including those in academia, industry and government.” The partnership intends to:

  • Address the technical challenges of delivering commercially viable fusion energy, based on the existing Agreement between the US and the UK on Scientific & Technological Cooperation;
  • Focus on shared access to and development of major new national facilities required for fusion research and development, and how a coordinated, strategic approach can maximise value;
  • Explore opportunities to support the international harmonisation of regulatory frameworks and codes and standards;
  • Identify and support the development of resilient supply chains needed for commercial fusion deployment;
  • Support public engagement with communities, “including equity and energy justice, to facilitate social licence for deploying fusion energy”; and
  • Promote skills development to ensure the people and talent growth necessary for “the robust, inclusive and diverse workforce required by the fusion sector into the next decade and beyond”.

The statement said: “It is anticipated that major plant design projects such as STEP in the UK or those part of the US Milestone-Based Fusion Development Programme would not be covered by this partnership, though those projects may inform priority research areas of the partnership."

A focused joint coordinating committee to drive the work of the new partnership will be announced soon and is expected to meet for the first time in early 2024. The committee will be co-chaired by DOE and DESNZ and is expected to include participation from national laboratories, academia, and industry. “The committee is expected to form and oversee working groups to identify and advance priority US-UK collaborative opportunities to realise our shared vision for fusion energy as an integral part of the world’s future energy supply.”

DESNZ noted that this is the UK’s first formal international fusion collaboration since the launch of the £650m ($794m) Fusion Futures Programme, “which is ensuring the UK remains at the cutting-edge of innovation - with training opportunities and dedicated funding for fusion companies”. This is on top of the £700m already allocated to UK fusion energy programmes between 2022 and 2025.

DESNZ said the new partnership will:

  • bring together scientists and engineers from the UK and US to address the technical challenges of delivering commercially viable fusion energy;
  • allow shared access for facilities and stimulate new R&D opportunities;
  • standardise international regulatory frameworks and codes of practice;
  • develop resilient supply chains for fusion materials to support the industry long-term;
  • promote skills development for a robust talent pool in the coming decade.

UK Nuclear & Networks Minister Andrew Bowie said international collaboration is key for advancing fusion and “achieving our ambition of getting a commercial fusion reactor grid-ready by 2040”. He added that the UK and the US “are world-leaders in this technology, and pooling our resources will unlock new private sector investment”.

Image: US Deputy Secretary of Energy, David M Turk (left) and the UK Minister for Nuclear & Networks, Andrew Bowie meeting in Washington, DC (courtesy of @AndrewBowie_MP / X)

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