An article, released by the magazine Politico on January 26 this year, hit the British scientific like a bomb: The British government seeks to exit Euratom! This information was rather a footnote in the Article 50 bill which applies to the withdrawal from the European Union but it caused quite a stir in the scientific communities. Even famous English communicator Brian Cox couldn’t help but call the decision “terrifically stupid” on Twitter.

Staff inside JET‘s control room excitedly watching the monitor. (Picture: © Copyright protected by United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority)


The Brexatom limbo

Alexandrine Kántor

Alexandrine Kántor, Electrical Design Engineer at CCFE, Picture: © Copyright protected by United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority

The so called “Brexatom” developments have led to an atmosphere of uncertainty and concern around the staff of EUROfusion’s UK Research Unit, the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) – the research arm of the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA).

“’Brexatom’ makes me lose everything. As a European citizen I might lose my right to live and work in the United Kingdom. Also, I might not be able to continue my efforts on the EUROfusion project ‘DEMO’”,

says French Alexandrine Kántor who serves as a Electrical Design Engineer at CCFE.

Bild4_Brian Cox

JET: almost 90% funding from Europe

"Maintaining and building on our world-leading fusion expertise and securing alternative routes into the international fusion R&D projects such as the Joint European Torus (JET) project at Culham and the ITER project in France, will be a priority”, says Ian Chapman, CEO of the Culham Centre fpr Fusion Energy (CCFE). (Picture: © Copyright protected by United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority)

Ian Chapman, CEO of the Culham Centre fpr Fusion Energy (CCFE). (Picture: © Copyright protected by United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority)

Around 100 scientists from outside Britain currently work at Culham, on JET, the Joint European Torus. As a joint venture, JET is collectively used by more than 40 European laboratories. EUROfusion provides the work platform to exploit the tokamak in an efficient and focused way. Its operations receive funding of €69 million Euro, 87.5% of which is provided by the European Commission and 12.5% by the UK.
It is the only existing fusion device capable of operating with the deuterium-tritium fuel, which will be the fusion fuel of the future. JET is a crucial precursor to the success of ITER, the world’s largest fusion experiment to come. In 2025, ITER will start operations to prove that fusion energy is feasible.

EUROfusion will push for operations until 2020

Alexandrine now fears that this timetable cannot be kept. “We need to provide fusion energy in 50 years. ITER can’t work properly if we can’t continue experiments on JET”, she claims.
The current contract to operate JET runs until the end of 2018, so the short-term future of JET is secure. For the time being, EUROfusion will do everything possible to continue the very good relation with CCFE.

“European collaboration has made JET the success it is today. We will push for an extension of its operation, at least until 2020, but certainly also beyond”

, says EUROfusion Programme Manager Tony Donné. This also requires a smooth transition to a secure future, not least for the people that are affected by the UK withdrawing from Euratom.

Jo Johnson, UK Minister for Universities and Science. Picture: © Copyright protected by United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority

Jo Johnson, UK Minister for Universities and Science. Picture: © Copyright protected by United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority

Calming the waters

Discussions between UKAEA CEO and CCFE Director, Ian Chapman and senior UK Government officials are ongoing and Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Jo Johnson MP has stated that “the UK supports Euratom, and we value international collaboration in fusion research and the UK’s key role in these efforts.

Maintaining and building on our world-leading fusion expertise and securing alternative routes into the international fusion R&D projects such as the Joint European Torus (JET) project at Culham and the ITER project in France, will be a priority”.

Slowing down Brexatom

Since then, Alexandrine won’t sit on her hands. She is the administrator of “The 3 Million”, an organisation of EU citizens living in the UK. She is constantly in talks with Members of the British Parliament in order to speak out for her community: “I hope that the ‘Brexatom’ process can be slowed down until we find an equivalent which protects our rights”, she says.

From JET to the first fusion power plant
The largest tokamak in the world, the Joint European Torus (JET), investigates the potential of fusion power as a safe, clean, and virtually limitless energy source for future generations. EUROfusion, the Consortium for the Development of Fusion Energy, facilitates the efficient exploitation of the experiment. As a consequence, more than 350 scientists and engineers from all over Europe currently contribute to JET’s programme. The operation of the JET facilities is provided as an in-kind contribution to the consortium via a contract between the European Commission and the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE).
JET is the current fusion device closest to ITER, sometimes even referred to as “little ITER”. As a matter of fact, the experimental results and design studies performed by JET are consolidated to a large extent into the ITER design. Once ITER operates, it should deliver ten times more power than it consumes.
Therefore, its predecessor JET is equipped with unique facilities needed to operate a fusion power plant. The next foreseen device after ITER, DEMO, is expected to be the first fusion plant to provide electricity to the grid.