Atomic Energy Authority appoints new director to drive UK’s ambitious fusion plans

UKAEA Paul Methven

The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), based at Culham Science Centre near Abingdon and which is responsible for the UK’s national fusion research has welcomed a new Director for its flagship STEP programme.

STEP (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production) is an ambitious programme to design and construct a prototype fusion power plant by 2040. It is a UKAEA programme with £222 million funding from the UK Government to produce a concept design by 2024.

Paul Methven joins the STEP programme from the Submarine Delivery Agency, where he was the Director of Submarine Acquisition, bringing with him a wealth of significant project experience.

STEP is an ambitious programme to accelerate the delivery of sustainable fusion energy through the design and build of the world’s first compact fusion reactor by 2040. With £222 million funding from government agreed in 2019, the first stage of work is to develop a concept design, as well as identifying a site where the plant will be built.

Progress towards STEP’s first concept design is already well underway, with a first whole plant review taking place over the summer.

Paul said: “I’m really looking forward to getting started and meeting the amazing people working across the STEP team and at UKAEA.

“What we’re doing really matters, for the country and indeed for the planet. And it’s a big and difficult challenge, with lots of uncertainty. But both those aspects, the importance of the work and its sheer difficulty, are what also makes it hugely exciting.

“Our task over the next four years is to build on the amazing research and development of the last 50 years at UKAEA and move forward to a concept design for a prototype fusion reactor and establish a well-founded programme that lays the foundations for commercially viable power generation.

“Frankly, who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? I’m excited to get started.”

UKAEA CEO Professor Ian Chapman, said: “STEP is about moving from research and development to delivering fusion power and I’m delighted that Paul is joining the team, moving into the fusion industry from a long and distinguished career in the Royal Navy.

“He has the drive and determination to ensure STEP reaches its short-term goals and enable the team to go on to design and build our prototype reactor in the UK by 2040, making a significant contribution to the UK’s long-term plans to decarbonise the economy.”

The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) carries out fusion energy research on behalf of the UK Government at Culham Science Centre near Oxford. UKAEA oversees Britain’s fusion programme, headed by the MAST Upgrade (Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak) experiment. It also hosts the world’s largest fusion research facility, JET (Joint European Torus), which it operates for European scientists under a contract with the European Commission.