The United Kingdom will start work to create a regulatory framework for supporting research and development of nuclear fusion technology to enable the delivery of clean and safe energy, the government said on Tuesday in response to a report from an independent expert committee on regulations.
The Regulatory Horizons Council (RHC) published on Monday a report in which it recommends that the UK champion the way for a non-fission
nuclear approach by setting out and consulting on a vision of how the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Environment Agency could develop current regulations and put the best framework in place for the technology to flourish.
Although nuclear fusion has been long recognized as totally carbon- and by-product-free and the source atoms in hydrogen are abundant on Earth, replicating fusion energy generation on Earth has been a challenge. That’s because this fusion needs to take place at extremely high temperatures that create hot plasma and because researchers have struggled to obtain more energy from those plasmas than the energy input to run them.
The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) is building the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP), a prototype fusion power plant, which it hopes will be the world’s first prototype fusion power plant by 2040. Private industry is also developing concepts and securing commercial investment.
“The Government agrees with the RHC that the lower intrinsic hazard of the fusion process when compared to fission is an incredibly important factor in considering the regulatory framework for fusion,” Amanda Solloway, the UK Minister for Science, Research, and Innovation, said.
Last week, the UKAEA announced a possible breakthrough in nuclear fusion technology, in which an experiment in the UK achieved at least a tenfold reduction in the heat on materials on the key fusion machine components. An innovative exhaust system was found to handle the intense heat during the fusion reaction, which would allow components to last much longer and potentially make compact fusion power plants commercially viable, the UK government said. [emp]
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