Regulation decision to help ‘accelerate’ fusion energy progress

In October 2021, the government opened a consultation to seek views from the public, industry, academia and other stakeholders after publishing a Green Paper on its proposals for fusion regulation.

It has today published its response to the consultation, which is available on the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy website. It confirms:

  • Current UK regulators of fusion R&D facilities will retain responsibility for fusion. This means future fusion facilities will continue to be regulated by the EA and HSE (or devolved bodies as appropriate).

  • This regulatory approach will apply to all planned fusion prototype energy facilities in the UK. This provides clarity to developers of prototype / demonstration fusion facilities currently being planned to support rapid commercialisation.
  • The government will legislate to make clear in law the regulatory treatment of fusion energy. This provides certainty and confidence to the industry by amending the law to exclude fusion energy facilities from nuclear regulatory and licensing requirements.

George Freeman, Science Minister, said: “Input from UK and international experts has been invaluable in helping the government to reach a decision on how to regulate this rapidly evolving, cutting-edge technology. We remain confident that existing regulations in the UK will be able to uphold safety standards in a proportionate way.

“We believe that the decisions – based on the best available evidence and now supported by regulators, the fusion industry and other experts – are the right ones to help move safely and determinedly towards fusion energy.”

Prof. Ian Chapman, UKAEA Chief Executive, added: “This early confirmation of a proportionate regulatory framework will help accelerate the progress of fusion energy, which has great potential to deliver safe, sustainable, low carbon energy for generations to come. It demonstrates our government’s high-level support and progressive approach to enabling fusion to happen here in the UK.

“Our work continues to create jobs and drive economic growth while placing the UK at the forefront of the international scientific community. This national capability and new regulatory framework is also helping to attract overseas investment, giving us the very best opportunity to become a global exporter of fusion technology.”

The government’s proposals consider the assessment of the hazard of fusion energy facilities, and the significant difference to nuclear fission power plants. It is now putting in place a programme of work to develop areas of the regulatory framework.

The UK’s Fusion Strategy set out how the UK aims to support the development of fusion energy – based on the same processes that power the sun and stars – for commercial industrial use over the next two decades.

In December 2021 the Joint European Torus – the most powerful fusion facility in the world and operated by UKAEA in Culham, Oxford – broke its own record for sustained fusion energy. JET has been successfully regulated by the Environment Agency and the HSE during its 39-year lifetime.

By the end of 2021 the global private fusion sector had raised over $4bn, a $2bn increase on 2020. Today’s confirmation of a regulatory regime by the UK government will provide further certainty to investors in fusion in the UK.

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