Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: UK Magnetic Fusion Research Programme

This research area covers the UK Atomic Energy Agency (UKAEA)  UK Magnetic Fusion Research Programme.

£43.2 million
2019 to 2022
Partners involved:
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and EUROfusion.

The scope and what we're doing

How we are funded

This research area only contains the funding for the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) UK Magnetic Fusion Research Programme. Transfer of funding for the domestic fusion programme to EPSRC from the Department of Trade and Industry occurred in 2003 to 2004.

Current funding

The current grant of £43.2 million was awarded in April 2019 and runs until April 2022. The grant includes funding for the following:

  • funding for the upgrade to Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak (MAST)
  • UK research programme
  • UK host funding for operating the Joint European Torus (JET) which UKAEA operates for the collective EUROfusion programme. JET is currently Europe’s flagship fusion research facility.

JET operations are mainly funded by the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM). The UK programme (both UKAEA and universities) also gets EURATOM funding for research and training via the EUROfusion consortium. Overall fusion income to UKAEA is around 15% from EPSRC, 15% from BEIS and 70% from EUROfusion.

Strategic focus

The main strategic priorities for the UKAEA programme as laid out in the 20-year vision will be:

  • to continue to support international fusion science on JET in order to reduce risk to International Thermonuclear Energy Reactor (ITER) programme operations
  • to support research on the UK domestic MAST programme, to capitalise on the experience gained from operating the JET facility and keep the UK well positioned to benefit from future international fusion energy developments, such as the demonstrator reactor (DEMO)
  • research into materials and technology in support of the ITER programme
  • to support the MAST upgrade facility as a UK national programme that will provide a centre of excellence for the UK once JET is decommissioned.

Other priorities also highlighted by the 20-year vision and independent review of fission and fusion are:

  • to continue to encourage the collaboration between UKAEA and the universities that work in fusion research, to identify and enable transferable outcomes
  • to continue to work closely with the fusion Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) at York University to ensure the supply of future UK fusion research leaders
  • to encourage UKAEA to work more with complementary research areas, such as engineering in hazardous environments and the nuclear fission research programme, to exploit synergies and reduce duplication of capability
  • to support the Materials Research Facility and Remote Applications in Challenging Environments Centre at Culham in order to facilitate the above point.

Researchers and training

While UKAEA does not directly support students, they are responsible for training postdoctoral researchers and host CDT students funded by the York Fusion CDT.  The numbers of researchers being trained will be maintained as the research capacity for fusion research was judged by the recent fission and fusion review to be appropriate to the future needs of the sector.

Industrial demand for researchers with fusion experience is limited. Therefore the links to other research areas are very important. The crossover with nuclear fission, robotics and autonomous systems and sensor and detector research provides a wider pool of capability and career opportunities for fusion researchers.

Additionally, UKAEA will continue to train the people that will be needed to enable operation of the ITER facility when it becomes operational.

Current programme

Find out more about the Magnetic Research Fusion Programme 2019 to 2022.

Why we're doing it

In the long-term, fusion promises to provide almost limitless energy. Therefore, other than renewables, it represents the only truly long-term energy dense power source. However, fusion energy will not be delivered by one country alone; hence most research to deliver a functioning power station is being undertaken through the Joint European Torus (JET) and International Thermonuclear Energy Reactor (ITER) activities, and through Europe’s demonstrator reactor (DEMO) programme.

UKAEA and the fusion advisory board (FAB)

CCFE is the leading European centre of fusion energy research. The quality of the science at CCFE is overseen by FAB, an independent body which reviews progress twice yearly. FAB also produced a 20-year vision document for the UK contribution to the Global Fusion Development Programme (last updated in 2015).

A major review is normally undertaken at the midpoint of the grant, however the last review was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a lighter touch review was done in 2021. Also, a significant review is undertaken when the grant is due for renewal. These review reports are a leading source of input for the strategy for this activity.

The role of the mega amp spherical tokamak (MAST)

MAST is the central facility in the UK fusion programme. MAST, and a sister facility in the US, lead the world in the spherical tokamak approach to fusion. MAST greatly expands the scientific capability of the facility.

Mast is effectively a new fusion facility that will:

  • explore a possibly more compact approach to fusion energy
  • develop novel solutions to the crucial challenge of the plasma-material interface
  • provide results of importance to ITER and plasma confinement science.

As well as MAST, the UK programme has research in the theory of fusion plasmas and in fusion materials science and technologies.

Magnetic confinement fusion (MCF)

The review of fusion and fission research identified that the UK’s programme of MCF has a high degree of scientific excellence and is currently central to the wider international effort in MCF.

The review noted that the JET programme is of the highest level of international importance, as the only tokamak able to run Deuterium-Tritium (D-T) experiments. Its results are vital for mitigating risks at ITER. It was noted that the university research community is well integrated with the national programme at UKAEA, with particular strengths in modelling and in materials science and technology and a strong fusion Centre for Doctoral Training.

Links with other research areas

The UK magnetic fusion research programme interacts most strongly with the plasma and lasers research area, under which all the other nuclear fusion related research that is supported by EPSRC is coded.

View evidence sources used to inform our research strategies.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Who to contact

Governance, management and panels

The UKAEA fusion grant is overseen by the Fusion Advisory Board (FAB). The UKRI Fusion Advisory Board advises EPSRC on UK fusion for energy research and postgraduate training including the UK’s participation in international projects.

Last updated: 31 July 2023

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