Landmark nuclear fusion deal struck by US and UK

The US and the UK have announced a “major new partnership” in fusion technology, advancing the “shared goal of ending the climate crisis”, officials said.

The agreement came from the US Department of Energy and the UK’s Department for Energy Security and Net Zero during a meeting in Washington on Wednesday.

Thousands of scientists and engineers have been working for decades on nuclear fusion, which attempts to replicate how atoms fuse together to power the sun and other stars, producing vast amounts of energy that can be turned into electricity.

A major breakthrough was announced in late 2022 after a team from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California for the first time achieved a “net energy gain” – producing more energy in a fusion reaction than was used to ignite it.

The major selling point of fusion is that, unlike other nuclear reactions, it doesn’t create radioactive waste.

And while fusion enthusiasts say that it could replace oil and gas with enough carbon-free energy to power society, experts caution that day is still decades away.

The new US-UK partnership will see fusion scientists on both sides of the Atlantic collaborate on R&D, share knowledge and access to facilities in an attempt to make fusion commercially viable.

US energy secretary Jennifer Granholm said last month that the US hopes to create a commercial nuclear fusion facility within 10 years as part of the country’s shift away from fossil fuels to clean energy.

Nuclear energy is part of the Biden administration’s goal of reaching a net-zero power sector by 2035, and net-zero economy by mid-century.

Wednesday’s announcement was made by deputy undersecretary at the US Department for Energy, David Turk, and UK Minister for Nuclear and Networks, Andrew Bowie.

“I look forward to welcoming Minister Bowie to Washington to build on that partnership to advance fusion energy that could ultimately help us achieve our countries’ shared goal of ending the climate crisis,” Mr Turk said.

No new financial investment accompanied the announcement. Last month, the UK launched the £650 million ( $800 million) Fusion Futures Programme to provide training and fund companies.

“International collaboration is key for advancing fusion and achieving our ambition of getting a commercial fusion reactor grid-ready by 2040,” said Nuclear and Networks Minister Andrew Bowie.

A committee made up of scientists from national labs, academia and industry will meet for the first time in early 2024, the UK government said.


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