Helion tops 100m Celsius; UK group calls for restoration of nuclear capacity

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The construction site of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), the world's largest fusion experiment, in southern France. (Source: Reuters/Jean-Paul Pelissier)

Washington-based Helion Energy has become the first private company to exceed 100 million degrees Celsius in their sixth-generation fusion generator prototype, Trenta, a critical engineering milestone, the company said in statement.

One hundred million degrees Celsius is considered the ideal temperature at which a commercial fusion power plant would need to operate.

The company also said the prototype recently completed a 16-month testing campaign, which pushed fusion fuel performance to unprecedented levels and performed lifetime and reliability testing on key components of the fusion system.

Helion will present the results at the 2021 IEEE Pulsed Power Conference & Symposium on Fusion Engineering, it said.

Fusion, which powers the sun and the stars as hydrogen atoms fuse together to form helium and energy, has been promising an almost inexhaustible source of energy with little waste for decades but, until just recently, has faced seemingly unsurmountable engineering challenges.

The high temperature and confirmed system reliability are vital milestones that validate the company’s plans to develop a cost-effective power plant using it unique pulsed, non-ignition fusion devise, the statement said.

“These achievements represent breakthroughs with major implications for how the world meets its expanding future electricity needs while dramatically reducing climate impact on a relevant timescale,” said David Kirtley, Founder and CEO of Helion Energy.

UK parliamentary group calls for restoration of nuclear capacity

A cross-party group from the British parliament has called for the urgent restoration of nuclear capacity of at least 10 GW by the early 2030s in a report released at the end of June.

The report, “Net Zero Needs Nuclear: A Roadmap to 2024”, notes that much of the country’s nuclear fleet is set to retire by March 2024, so there must be new investment injected in to the sector to cut emissions, create tens of thousands of high-quality jobs, and secure the UK’s nuclear skills base.

“Without new investment, the UK will lose critical capabilities and our position as an international leader in nuclear technology,” the report said.

The government must begin legislating for a financing model for new nuclear this year and identify and support the specific projects that can deliver new capacity while the industry must continue its work to reduce costs on new projects by at least 30% by 2030, it said.

Seven Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactors (AGRs) have run for decades, though one of those has already been retired and another will also go within a few months. Five other power stations will be closed by March 2024, leaving the Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) at Sizewell B the only reactor of the existing fleet still operating by the end of the decade.

“Nuclear is the only clean power source the UK can rely on to stabilize our grid and to bolster our energy security. No other technology can substitute for nuclear. If the nuclear fleet is allowed to retire without replacement, we will fall further from our climate goals,” it said.

Early regulatory engagement, harmonization needed for SMRs – report

Small modular reactor (SMR) developers must engage with regulators early in the design process while national regulators need to communicate more closely with one another for the new technology to grow, according to a World Nuclear Association report published in June.

The report, “Design Maturity and Regulatory Expectations for Small Modular Reactors”, explored the expectations of design and technology maturity of SMR designs in relation to the regulatory pre-licensing and licensing processes through two surveys covering nine countries across Asia, Europe, and North America.

“The wide variety of licensing processes, number of steps, and the diversity of overall national regulatory structures … was immediately noticeable when evaluating the survey results,” the report said.

While the report noted that design maturity required for a construction license application is relatively well aligned among the countries in the survey, pre-licensing processes vary greatly between countries and have different design maturity expectations for applicants.

License applicants must have active and early engagement with national regulators in anticipation of expected licensing activities to understand the technology readiness of the reactor designs and clarify the degree of technical and design maturity requirements for every phase of the pre-licensing and licensing processes, it said.

A gap analysis against the requirements of the proposed host country must be undertaken and the identified gaps must be resolved prior to undertaking pre-licensing or licensing in a country other than the SMR vendor’s home country, it added.

“National regulators undertaking SMR licensing activities, or planning to do so in the future, can benefit from engagement with other national regulators through bilateral and multinational agreements on design and safety reviews, sharing technical reviews, establishing common position statements on safety criteria, and identifying any other areas for collaboration making appropriate use of the reference SMR design review, where one exists,” the report said.

By Reuters Events Nuclear