04 October 2021

The ‘Toward Fusion Energy’ consultation is open for responses until 24 December 2021 and seeks views on the regulatory framework for ensuring the growth of the fusion energy industry while maintaining public and environmental protections and providing public assurances. The consultation represents a critical stage in the development of fusion in the UK. It presents for the first time important conclusions and planning assumptions that would underpin the regulation of fusion in the coming decades.

The fusion strategy provides important context to the consultation, setting out how the UK government will leverage scientific, commercial and international leadership to enable delivery of fusion. With this strategy “to move from a fusion science superpower to a fusion industry superpower”, BEIS intends to work with the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) to achieve two overarching goals:

  1. for the UK to demonstrate the commercial viability of fusion by building a prototype fusion power plant in the UK that puts energy on the grid; and
  2. for the UK to build a world-leading fusion industry which can export fusion technology around the world in subsequent decades.

The key takeaway from the Government’s regulatory framework proposals, which we expect to be welcomed by those participating in fusion projects, is the plan to maintain the existing fusion regulatory approach. This means that in England, the regulation of fusion facilities will continue to be led by the Environment Agency (EA) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) (and their equivalent devolved regulators in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). Unlike “conventional nuclear” (i.e. fission), fusion operators would not be required to obtain a nuclear site licence and so fusion facilities would not be required to be on a nuclear site regulated by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR). However, the ONR would continue to be responsible for the regulation of the off-site transportation of radioactive material and nuclear safeguards.

In order to accommodate fusion within the existing regulatory approach, the Government expects that clarification or the introduction of new provisions will be needed in certain areas to remove ambiguity and provide certainty to fusion developers and the public. These areas include:

  • the justification application for fusion energy;
  • a formalised process for early regulatory engagement;
  • additional regulatory guidance;
  • the establishment of a Fusion Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project;
  • requirements for fusion waste storage and disposal;
  • development of regulators’ technical capabilities;
  • amendments to existing nuclear legislation such as the Nuclear Installations Act 1965 and the Nuclear Installations Regulations 1971;
  • the application of the Network and Information Systems Regulations 2018; and
  • the application of the principles behind the Paris Convention on Third Party Liability in the Field of Nuclear Energy.

Following receipt of responses to the consultation, the Government anticipates publishing its response and conclusions in early 2022. The challenges to the development and successful commercial deployment of fusion energy remain considerable. Industry’s responses to this consultation will play an essential role in ensuring that the regulatory framework for fusion can support long-term growth, innovation, international collaboration and the safe and rapid development of this revolutionary low carbon technology. Accordingly, stakeholders that are already involved in, or may in future become involved in, fusion projects should consider responding to seek to ensure their views are taken into account.

Burges Salmon is involved in the fusion sector for clients in the UK and France – if you wish to discuss any aspects of this development please contact our Nuclear Team or Ian.Salter@burges-salmon.com.  

Key contact

Ian Salter

Ian Salter Partner

  • Head of Nuclear
  • Head of Projects
  • Environment

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