A new report has set out how the UK can support the ‘rapid and safe’ introduction of fusion energy as the technology develops.
Fusion is the process that powers the sun. A fusion power plant would combine hydrogen atoms to generate energy without giving off the carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.
The UK hopes to deliver the world’s first prototype fusion power plant, STEP (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production), by 2040.
Produced by the Regulatory Horizons Council (RHC), an independent expert committee which identifies regulation required to foster technical innovation, the new report makes recommendations on how fusion energy should be regulated in light of its ‘inherently lower’ risk than nuclear alternatives.
Science Minister Amanda Solloway commented: “Fusion energy has enormous potential, offering an inexhaustible source of zero-carbon energy and helping us to cement the UK’s position as a science superpower.
“Today’s report helps put the foundations in place to deliver the world’s first prototype fusion plant by 2040 and ensures we can capitalise on the exciting innovation taking place right here in the UK.”
Focusing on the STEP programme announced in October 2019, the report recommends the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Environment Agency lead on developing current regulations and putting the best framework in place for the technology to flourish.
Due to the lower risk associated with fusion that with nuclear fission, the report recommends that the current regulatory approach, led by HSE and the Environment Agency, is the most appropriate framework and that the more stringent regulations applied to nuclear energy would be ‘disproportionate.’
To ensure the target of delivering a fusion plant by 2040 is met, the report also recommends the government consults with business and the public on its plans for fusion energy in summer 2021 and starts a public awareness programme on the topic.
The report also advises that a joint guidance document is produced by EA, HSE and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to provide further clarity and ensure confidence in the technology.
Following the publication of the report, the government has confirmed that it will launch a consultation on fusion energy regulation later this year.
The government has published an interim response to the RHC report and will reply in full in early 2022 after the consultation.
‘Regulatory Horizons Council: report on fusion energy regulation’ is available on the UK government website.