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Private company set up to oversee UK's prototype fusion reactor

STEP won't be complete until 2040, but here's a 'delivery body' in the meantime

The UK government has set up a delivery body tasked with building a prototype fusion energy plant to be sited at West Burton in Nottinghamshire.

Announced today by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the newly established UK Industrial Fusion Solutions Ltd (UKIFS) will have responsibility for delivering the prototype nuclear fusion facility, known as the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP).

The STEP project, which was first revealed just over a year ago, is expected to have completed construction by 2040, so don't hold your breath for the "near limitless, low-carbon energy" the program promises to deliver as part of a path to net-zero carbon dioxide emissions and driving economic growth across the UK.

Nevertheless, the government is enthusiastic about the project, stating that the program is intended to pave the way for the commercialization of fusion and the potential development of a fleet of future plants around the world, which could "drive forward the UK's global leadership in this innovative sector."

The site, at the West Burton power station in Nottinghamshire, was announced last October after being whittled down from an initial list of 15 prospective locations. The government is supposed to be providing £220 million ($264 million) in funding for the first phase of STEP, which will involve the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) producing a concept design by 2024, as we reported at the time.

On a visit to the site, Science Minister George Freeman urged energy companies and investors to recognize the advantages fusion energy could have for both the UK and the wider world.

"Fusion energy now has the potential to transform our world for the better by harnessing the same process powering the sun to provide cheap, abundant, low-carbon energy across the world," he said in a statement.

Claiming the UK as a world leader in fusion science and technology, Freeman said the program aims to turn fusion from cutting edge science into a "billion-pound clean energy industry" that could potentially create thousands of UK jobs across the UK and grow exports, as well as lead to regeneration for the former coalfield site through what he referred to as a "fusion innovation cluster" in Nottinghamshire.

"That's why I'm delighted to announce the creation of Industrial Fusion Solutions as the vehicle for industrial development and deployment of this technology as a new clean energy source in the coming decades," he added.

Industrial Fusion Solutions was incorporated on January 27 as a private limited company, according to details filed at Companies House, with two directors listed: Ian Chapman and Timothy Bestwick.

That's Professor Sir Ian Chapman, UKAEA chief executive, while Tim Bestwick is UKAEA's chief technology officer and director of Strategy, Communications & Business Development.

"The establishment of Industrial Fusion Solutions will enable STEP to accelerate its journey towards delivery of electricity from fusion energy to the grid. The new body, which will be formed over the next 18 months, will be established as a programme delivery organisation, driving performance and pace and engaging industry in this endeavour," Chapman stated.

The move comes after scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in the US announced the achievement of fusion ignition at their National Ignition Facility in December, meaning it produced more energy from fusion than that required to initiate the reaction for the first time in a controlled experiment.

The UK remains part of the international ITER fusion research project, located in France, but the STEP prototype will feature a different design with a compact spherical tokamak that is said to comprise a tighter magnetic field than that seen in the doughnut-style designs of other reactors.

Freeman also announced a commitment to build a STEP Skills Centre at the West Burton site, which aims to provide as many opportunities as possible to people in the area. ®

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