The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), have signed a collaboration framework agreement to partner on developing technologies in relation to the management of tritium as a fusion energy fuel. This followed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) by UK’s Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho and Canadian Minister of Energy & Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson at the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Ministerial meeting in Paris.

The MOU strengthened collaboration on key areas such as research and development, regulatory harmonisation, and skills and workforce development. “Fusion energy promises to be a safe, low carbon and sustainable part of the world’s future energy supply,” said Stephen Wheeler, UKAEA Executive Director. “Tritium is a key fuel for fusion energy, and developing a commercial scale fuel cycle for the handling and reprocessing of tritium is vital to the delivery of fusion as a clean energy source.” He added that the “brings together two of the largest and most experienced tritium research and operational teams in order to accelerate the development of new technologies for tritium processing”.

The UKAEA and CNL agreement establishes a framework in which the two organisations will conduct joint research projects, facilitate personnel secondments, share expertise for consultancy services, and work together to provide services to the fusion industry.

The partnership will focus on hydrogen isotope management within the fusion fuel cycle, safely removing, processing, and reinjecting fuel to the plasma in a continuous manner. Hydrogen isotope management is an essential part of the fusion fuel cycle – tritium needs to be separated from other hydrogen isotopes in the exhaust gas so that it can be recycled and reused as a fusion fuel. Tritium is rare in nature, so managing tritium efficiently is crucial to fusion energy’s commercial viability.

The first project will involve samples of candidate materials for isotope separation being analysed at both CNL’s facilities in Chalk River, Ontario, and UKAEA’s facilities in Culham, Oxfordshire, said Jeff Griffin, Vice-President for Science & Technology at CNL.

“For our part, CNL has extensive expertise in the safe operation of facilities, storage and management of tritium, capabilities that will be critically important to this collaboration,” noted Ian Castillo, Head of Hydrogen & Tritium Technologies at CNL.

The UK-Canada collaboration builds on the announcement of the UK-US Strategic Partnership on Fusion Energy in November 2023 and will support the UK’s £650m ($817m) Fusion Futures programme with training opportunities and dedicated funding for fusion companies.

Both UKAEA and CNL facilities will also be leveraged in this partnership to advance tritium technologies required for fusion applications, including the design of tritium processing plants, tritium-compatible materials development, tritium breeder blanket technologies, tritium decontamination, and analytical equipment and the modelling of tritium handling processes.

Image: Ian Castillo and Stephen Wheeler at the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA) Culham Campus in Oxfordshire, UK (courtesy of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories / GlobeNewswire)