The future of the world’s largest operational fusion research facility has been secured with a new contract signed today between the UK and the European Commission.
Staff at the Joint European Torus (JET) facility in Oxfordshire undertake research in the latest technologies aimed at providing clean, safe, inexhaustible energy. The new contract guarantees its operations until the end of 2020 regardless of the EU Exit situation and secures at least €100m in additional inward investment from the EU over the next two years.
Science Minister Chris Skidmore said: “Having made my first speech at Culham, I know how hardworking and dedicated UK Atomic Energy Authority staff are, which is why I’m pleased to announce today’s agreement, which is great news for the future of scientific research in Oxfordshire, the UK and Europe.
“Extending this contract means cutting-edge and world-leading fusion research can continue in this country, which I know will be a welcome reassurance to the hundreds of workers at Culham.
“Science has no borders and as we leave the EU, this kind of international collaboration remains at the heart of our modern Industrial Strategy to maintain the UK’s position as a world leader in research and innovation.”
JET is operated by the UK Atomic Energy Authority at Culham Science Centre, near Oxford. Scientists from 28 European countries use it to conduct research into the potential for carbon-free fusion energy in the future, through work coordinated by the EUROfusion consortium which manages and funds European fusion research activities on behalf of Euratom.
The future of the facility has been under discussion since 2017, as its work is covered by the Euratom Treaty, which the UK Government intends to leave as part of the process of leaving the EU.
This new contract provides reassurance for over 500 staff at JET, including many from outside the UK. It also means JET can conduct a series of vital fusion tests planned for 2020. These tests will serve as a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the new international experimental fusion reactor, ITER, currently being built in southern France.
In addition, the contract leaves open the option of a further extension to JET’s operations until 2024, which would enable it to support ITER in the run-up to its launch in 2025.
Prof Ian Chapman, CEO of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, said: “The extension to the contract is excellent news for both EU and UK science. JET has been a shining example of scientific co-operation between EU members, and this news means that these mutually beneficial collaborations will continue, allowing us to do essential experiments on the path to delivering fusion power.”
Prof Tony Donné, Programme Manager of EUROfusion, added: “A heavy weight has been lifted off our shoulders. This is extraordinarily good news for EUROfusion and the European fusion community as a whole. We can now continue to work on the realisation of fusion energy together with the indispensable experience of our British partner.”