The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) recently announced the start of the development of H3AT, the world’s first dedicated civil research facility for advancing the use of tritium for fusion energy. This follows on from the first stage of the process to find a site in the UK to build a prototype fusion energy plant; the STEP (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production) programme.
The H3AT (Hydrogen-3 Advanced Technology) facility, being built at the UKAEA’s Culham site in Oxfordshire, will support STEP as well as ongoing work at ITER, the international fusion experiment currently 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 ‘fusion fuels’ that will be used in future power stations.
Tritium research within the South West Nuclear Hub
Playing an important part in this research will be Hub Co-Director (Science) Professor Tom Scott. He was recently awarded a Royal Academy of Engineering Research Chair in Advancing the Fusion Energy Fuel Cycle, to work in collaboration with the UKAEA to establish the UK as an international leader in tritium fuel cycle technologies.
Professor Scott’s research will advance, develop and deploy technologies for breeding, handling, separation and safe storage of tritium. It will also grow the number of UK experts in tritium technologies to ensure that the UK maintains its position as a world leader in this area.
Furthermore, Hub member the University of Plymouth is a partner in the European TRANSAT (TRANSversal Actions for Tritium) project. Involving 18 partners from eight countries, TRANSAT addresses the challenges related to tritium release mitigation strategies and waste management improvement from radiotoxicity, radiobiology, and dosimetry perspectives.
STEP siting process
In 2020 the UKAEA launched the search for a location for STEP, which aims to deliver a commercially viable fusion power station by 2040. A national selection process is underway, with initial site nominations entered in March 2021 for consideration.
This includes a nomination from Western Gateway to use the Oldbury and Berkeley sites, both home to former fission power stations in Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire. The bid has the backing of South Gloucestershire Council; Gloucestershire County Council; Stroud District Council; Nuclear South West; Business West; West of England Combined Authority; West of England LEP; GFirst LEP; South Gloucestershire and Stroud College and the South West Nuclear Hub.
The UKAEA will review the nominations and select a shortlist of three for submission to the Secretary of State for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy. The final selection is expected to take place around the end of 2022.