Nuclear fusion / UK and Czech Republic to collaborate on crucial tests

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

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

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

The facility, expected to be operational in 2026, will provide test results that will help determine the design and service life of Step’s superconducting magnetic components. These components will operate at cryogenic temperatures of approximately -253°C and will be subjected to a high flux of high-energy neutrons due to their proximity to the fusion plasma.

The installation allows samples of HTS tapes to be cooled to the same cryogenic temperatures expected for Step’s superconducting magnets. Maintaining sample temperature during irradiation, transport, and measurement is critical to understanding how the HTS tapes degrade within their use environment.

Step, or Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production, is a prototype fusion power plant that will be built at West Burton in Nottinghamshire and operational in 2040.

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

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