Research & Development

Nuclear Fusion / UK And Czech Republic To Work Together On Crucial Testing

By David Dalton
2 May 2024

Results will be used in project to build prototype Step reactor

UK And Czech Republic To Work Together On Crucial Testing
Step is a prototype fusion energy plant that will be built in the UK with operation planned for in 2040. Courtesy UKAEA.

The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and Czech Republic research organisation Centrum Vyzkumu Rez (CVR) have signed a multi-year agreement to enable unique testing of high temperature superconducting (HTS) tapes, critical for the development of the UK’s “Step” prototype nuclear fusion energy power plant.

UKAEA will work alongside CVR to deliver the first-of-a kind test rig known as Hi-CrIS (high neutron fluence cryogenic irradiation of superconductors). The rig will provide data on the effect of a fusion-relevant neutron spectrum on superconducting properties of HTS tapes.

HTS tapes will be used in the planned Step prototype plant to confine the fusion plasma which can reach temperatures 10 times hotter than the core of the Sun, or about 150 million °C.

The rig, expected to be operational in 2026, will produce test results to help inform the design and lifespan of Step’s superconducting magnetic components. These components will operate under cryogenic temperatures of about -253 °C and will be subjected to a high flux of high energy neutrons due to their close proximity to the fusion plasma.

The rig will allow samples of HTS tapes to be cooled to the same cryogenic temperatures expected for Step’s superconducting magnets. Maintaining the sample temperature during irradiation, transportation and measurement is critical in understanding how the HTS tapes degrade within their operating environment.

Step, or Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production, is a prototype fusion energy plant that will be built at West Burton in Nottinghamshire, with operation planned for in 2040.

Step is a government-backed programme. The Step plant aims to generate net electricity and demonstrate how the plant will be maintained and produce its own fuel.

The Step programme aims to pave the way to commercial fusion and what the UKAEA called “a virtually limitless supply of low-carbon energy”.

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