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US and UK sign historic agreement to propel fusion energy into the future

Author : Sophia Bell, Group Editor, DPA

15 November 2023

The United States Department of Energy (DOE) and the United Kingdom's Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) have forged a strategic alliance to fast-track the commercialisation of fusion energy.

(Image: Shutterstock)
(Image: Shutterstock)

US Deputy Secretary of Energy David M. Turk and the UK’s Minister for Nuclear and Networks, Andrew Bowie, met in Washington, D.C. on 8 November, to explore how the two nations can work together to realise the game-changing potential of this environmentally friendly energy. 

Fusion energy is heralded as a game-changer for its potential to provide a low-carbon, sustainable and reliable energy source. The joint initiative will leverage the strengths of both nations, building upon their longstanding history of collaborative efforts in fusion energy research and development.

The partnership seeks to address the substantial technical challenges inherent in delivering commercially viable fusion energy in order to realise its vast societal and economic potential. The collaboration will be rooted in the complementary resources and facilities of the US and the UK, spanning academia, industry, and government.

In a joint statement, the UK’s Department for Energy Security and Net Zero and the US Department of Energy emphasised the importance of regulatory frameworks, social engagement, and market policies. 

The joint coordinating committee, set to be announced soon, will play a pivotal role in steering the partnership's endeavours. This committee is expected to include representatives from national laboratories, academia, and industry.

Key areas of focus for the US-UK fusion partnership include:

• Technical challenges: Addressing the technical hurdles to achieve commercially viable fusion energy, in alignment with existing agreements on scientific and technological cooperation

• National facilities: Promoting shared access and development of major new national facilities for fusion research, ensuring a coordinated, strategic approach to maximise value for both nations

• Regulatory harmonisation: Exploring opportunities to ‘harmonise’ international regulatory frameworks, codes, and standards to facilitate the global deployment of fusion energy

• Supply chain development: Identifying and supporting the development of resilient supply chains crucial for the commercial deployment of fusion energy

• Public engagement: Fostering public engagement, with a focus on equity and ‘energy justice’, to secure social acceptance for deploying fusion energy

• Skills development: Promoting skills development to ensure a robust, inclusive, and diverse workforce for the fusion sector's growth in the coming decades
 
While major plant design projects like the UK's Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) or the U.S. Milestone-Based Fusion Development Program may not fall under the partnership's direct coverage, they will inform priority research areas.

The joint committee is expected to kick-start its operations in early 2024, signalling a new era of collaboration between the US and the UK in addressing the challenges of climate change and fostering global energy security. 

While the technology has undergone decades of development, commercialization has so far remained elusive.

Nevertheless, a significant breakthrough occurred in December 2022, when researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced that, for the first time ever, they had successfully conducted the first controlled experiment in history to generate more energy than was consumed during a fusion energy reaction. 

It is hoped that the partnership will build upon this achievement and lead to the realisation of the UK and US’s “shared vision for fusion energy as an integral part of the world’s future energy supply”.


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