Regulation decision to help ‘accelerate’ fusion energy progress
On 20th June 2022, the UK government announced that fusion energy facilities will continue to be regulated by the Environment Agency (EA) and Health & Safety Executive (HSE).
So, what have they done and how significant is it?
What have they done?
The UK Government has confirmed that future fusion energy facilities will be regulated under the legal framework already in place for fusion—by the Environment Agency and the Health & Safety Executive rather than the Office for Nuclear Regulation.
In other words, fusion energy facilities will not be viewed or regulated as nuclear installations.
Through the work of the Regulatory Horizons Council (RHC) and a public consultation, they have considered the assessment of the hazard of fusion energy facilities and the significant difference to nuclear fission power plants. They have determined that existing regulations in the UK will be able to uphold safety standards in a proportionate way.
George Freeman MP, Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, said: “We are also clear that the fundamental differences between nuclear fission and fusion mean that it would be disproportionate and unnecessary to incorporate fusion energy facilities into nuclear regulations.
“We believe that the decisions – based on the best available evidence and now supported by regulators, the fusion industry and other experts – are the right ones to help move safely and determinedly towards fusion energy.”
Why is this result impressive?
The UK government conducted an efficient regulatory review process. The Regulatory Horizons Council—an expert committee established in 2019—consulted with the fusion industry and stakeholders, and made a proposal to government on how fusion should be regulated in the UK. The government then held a public consultation to solicit wider viewpoints. This closed on 24th December 2021 and within 6 months the government made its decision on how to move forward.
Responses to the 2021 consultation were received from around the world, and they acknowledged the responses as invaluable in helping the government to reach a decision on how to regulate this rapidly evolving, cutting-edge technology.
At all points the government has emphasised the importance of getting the balance right between protecting public safety and stimulating innovation for growing industries with technologies that could be life-changing.
Why is it important?
This confirmation of a regulatory regime by the UK government provides further certainty to investors in fusion in the UK.
The Government wants fusion developers to be able to plan with confidence and the public to understand the basis for the UK’s approach to the regulation of this emerging technology.
Regulation was a key part of the UK’s Fusion Strategy, published last October. This states the aspiration to “lead the development of international fusion standards and regulation, to ensure safety and maximise the global potential of fusion whilst creating important market opportunities for the UK.”
The Fusion Strategy set out how the UK aims to support the development of fusion energy for commercial industrial use over the next two decades.
This commitment to fusion from the government, alongside the proactive and efficient approach to developing the regulatory framework, is attractive to private fusion companies considering where to locate their facilities. It was one of the key factors for Canadian General Fusion deciding to build their Fusion Demonstration Plant in the UK, and will be a major factor in the location selection of their first Commercial Power Plant site.
Prof. Ian Chapman, UKAEA Chief Executive, said: “This early confirmation of a proportionate regulatory framework will help accelerate the progress of fusion energy…. It demonstrates our government’s high-level support and progressive approach to enabling fusion to happen here in the UK.
“Our work continues to create jobs and drive economic growth while placing the UK at the forefront of the international scientific community. This national capability and new regulatory framework is also helping to attract overseas investment, giving us the very best opportunity to become a global exporter of fusion technology.”
The Government will now begin to implement its proposals on fusion regulation. It will use the Energy Security Bill to legislate to confirm that fusion energy facilities will not be legally defined as nuclear installations.
The Government will use the Energy Security Bill to amend the Nuclear Installations Act (1965) (NIA65) to explicitly exclude fusion energy facilities from the regulatory and licensing requirements under NIA65.
The government also aims to establish a more efficient planning process for fusion energy facilities to align the planning process for fusion energy facilities with other nationally significant infrastructure projects and electricity producing facilities.
You can read the response to the consultation, Towards Fusion Energy, which also has a comprehensive list of next steps.
The aim is to move safely and determinedly towards fusion energy.