Culham Science Centre is …
- An internationally renowned centre for fusion energy research, development and technology
- Home of the European JET facility, currently the world’s largest fusion research machine
- Home of the UK’s national fusion research programme
- A diverse community of over 40 public and private sector organisations
- A key part of the globally significant science, technology and innovation cluster known as Science Vale Oxford
- A major employment location in Oxfordshire providing some 2000 jobs
- Targeting 50% growth
The Culham Science Centre Community
Owned and managed by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, Culham Science Centre combines world-class publicly funded research into fusion power, commercial technology organisations and Culham Innovation Centre, to create a powerhouse of high technology innovation and enterprise in South Oxfordshire, just a few miles south of the city of Oxford. It is sited in one of the most successful science locations in the country and is a partner in Science Vale Oxford, along with other public and private sector organisations in the area, to promote southern Oxfordshire as a global hot spot for enterprise and innovation in science, high technology and the application of knowledge.
Reflecting the cross-cutting and inter-disciplinary nature of the strengths of the Science Vale Oxford cluster, Culham Science Centre hosts a wide range of organisations. Examples include: Reaction Engines Ltd, an exciting aerospace company developing the technologies needed for an advanced combined cycle air-breathing rocket engine that will enable aircraft to operate easily at speeds of up to five times the speed of sound or fly directly into Earth orbit; Aurox Ltd, a leading imaging equipment company, with its origins in Oxford University, which is developing new optical imaging techniques and products; And, GeneFirst, a growing molecular diagnostics company working in the fields of infectious diseases, cancer diagnostics and personal medicine.
Some of Culham Science Centre’s smaller and start-up high technology companies are hosted in the Culham Innovation Centre, a dedicated business incubator managed by Oxford Innovation Ltd. For more details, see www.culham-ic.co.uk.
Culham Science Centre’s eighty hectare site offers a pleasant working environment, easily accessible through an excellent road and rail infrastructure. Its unique and flexible conference facilities and various quality food outlets including restaurant, deli bar and dedicated coffee lounge, together with ample onsite parking and wide open green spaces, contribute towards a positive but relaxed campus atmosphere encouraging interaction and networking among its residents. See www.culhamconferencecentre.co.uk.
Culham Science Centre and Fusion
Culham Science Centre is home to the UK fusion programme run by the research arm of the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA). It is the leading UK centre of excellence in plasma science and engineering.
Fusion Research at Culham
Magnetic confinement fusion research in the UK began in 1945 at a number of leading universities. From the early 1950s onward, the main research efforts were based at Harwell (then the Atomic Energy Research Establishment) and Aldermaston. ZETA, the first large-scale fusion device, was built and operated at Harwell in the late 1950s. Most of the efforts of these two laboratories transferred to Culham in 1963, where they have developed until the present day.
Culham has concentrated on magnetic confinement fusion research (mainly so-called tokamak devices) ever since. In 1978, in addition to a number of UK fusion devices, Culham was chosen to host the European ‘flagship’ fusion project, the Joint European Torus (JET). JET has been operating at Culham ever since, and remains the principal experiment in European and world wide fusion research.
Since 1990, Culham has also been prominent in spherical tokamak research with the operation of the world’s first hot spherical tokamak, START. Spherical tokomaks are testing a more compact and potentially more efficient tokamak configuration. This was followed by a larger and more sophisticated machine, the Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak (MAST) which began operations in 2000. Following on from impressive results, MAST is now undergoing a major upgrade, which will significantly expand its operational capability. The upgraded MAST will be ready to start operation in mid 2017.
UKAEA Technology Programme
UKAEA is also growing a burgeoning technology programme – developing expertise and design/testing facilities in the key areas required for fusion power production. Two new facilities have just been constructed at Culham Science Centre:
A Materials Research Facility (MRF), which will allow industry and academia to investigate the mechanical properties of materials likely to be used in future fission fusion reactors and materials already used in the nuclear industry.
Remote Applications in Challenging Environments (RACE), consolidates the expertise built up by UKAEA in remote handling in the JET experiment, and will offer design and testing facilities for the development of remote, robotic and autonomous systems in a number of challenging environments – such as deep-sea oil and gas exploration, nuclear power generation, space exploration etc.
The €14 billion International Tokamak Experimental Reactor (ITER) project is the next step in fusion research. Under construction in Cadarache, France, it is due to start operation in the mid 2020s, building on the success of JET and the worldwide tokamak research programme. It is intended to demonstrate integrated physics and engineering on a scale of a future fusion power station and is expected to produce 500 MW of fusion power. UK companies have already won many ITER contracts; it is hoped that UK science park-based companies will play an active role in supplying technology and services to the ITER project. For more details, see www.fusion-industry.org.uk.
Support for Industry
The skills and technologies associated with fusion research can be useful to companies of any size. At Culham Science Centre start-up technology companies are able to draw on the skills of the UKAEA team working on one of the world’s greatest engineering challenges. A Technical Support Package has been developed by UKAEA to assist suitably qualified companies during the early stages of their business. Depending on their needs, the package could include, for example, technical advice and access to mechanical, electrical and electronic engineering skills, as well as computer modelling, precision diagnostics, cryogenic systems and microwave systems.
Planning for the Future
In order to maintain the engineering skills base at technician level, CCFE runs an Advanced Apprenticeship Scheme – www.culhamapprenticeshipscheme.com. The scheme selects and recruits successful candidates who undergo a four year training programme based at CCFE and at a local college.
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