Realizing the potential of nuclear fusion as a large-scale energy source depends on engaging industry to build reactor facilities and to supply the specialist engineering skills that are needed to sustain, monitor and control the fusion reaction. To help in that endeavour, the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) has a dedicated fusion and industry team based at the Culham Science Centre in Oxfordshire. Its role is to encourage UK companies to bid for international supply contracts arising from fusion research, in particular ITER, the power-plant-scale fusion experiment currently under construction in Cadarache, France.

ITER is a significant business opportunity for UK engineering and high-technology companies, and is a high priority for our fusion and industry team. UK firms are already helping to provide the innovative engineering solutions required for the project, but more companies need to get involved. Construction of the facility offers a number of options for different sectors, ranging from civil, mechanical and electrical engineering, consultancy services and project management through to instrumentation, advanced materials and precision engineering. Areas of particular relevance to ITER include the development and manufacture of high-heat-flux components, high-power electrical engineering, vacuum and pumping systems, remote handling, multi-megawatt particle beams and radio-frequency-wave heating systems, laser and optical diagnostics, a wide range of instrumentation, and computing, data acquisition and control systems.

The fusion and industry team has good contacts with Fusion for Energy (F4E), the domestic agency based in Barcelona, Spain, that manages the European procurements for ITER. Some 90% of all ITER procurement will be handled by the domestic agencies of the seven ITER partners, with Europe being responsible for more than one-third of all the contracts. Most of the ITER contracts that are open to UK companies will, therefore, be placed via F4E. Some initial procurement has taken place, but most contracts will be offered over the next 10 years and will amount to at least €2bn.

Procurement by F4E will be partly database driven. Companies can register on the F4E procurement database to receive requests for expressions of interest . Currently there are more than 200 UK companies registered, but there are many more firms in the country with the suitable expertise. My message to UK industry is to look seriously at these opportunities, which range from conventional to leading-edge engineering, and also include consultancy and project management.

I see subcontracting as presenting perhaps the best option for many UK firms. This is largely because F4E is expected to break Europe’s contribution to ITER into relatively large contracts (perhaps ranging from two to many tens of millions of Euros) for the supply of components and systems, plus smaller service contracts for engineering design/support during the project’s construction phase. Companies intending to bid as main contractors are unlikely to have the complete range of skills required in-house, and so will be seeking subcontractors. Early consortia opportunities involving UK firms are currently being actively pursued.

The team at Culham also arranges occasional trade missions for UK companies to visit F4E headquarters and the ITER site. A visit to F4E will typically include meetings with the procurement teams, engineers and possibly senior management, while visits to ITER normally allow companies to meet the engineers working on the project, as well as local French companies, with a view to possibly forming consortia.

Opportunities also exist for industry involvement in fusion research that is taking place in the UK. The Culham Science Centre is home to the UK’s fusion programmes and what is currently the world’s largest fusion experiment — the Joint European Torus. To hear details about fusion contracts from the various UK-based programmes, and also ITER, companies should register with the Culham team’s database. Registered companies receive alerts about tendering opportunities, fusion news, plus details of technology-related events, workshops and exhibitions.

Fusion research and ITER in particular offer great opportunities for UK companies to win new business, either as a single supplier or as part of a consortium of firms. The first step is to register with both the F4E and the Culham fusion and industry databases, and then to let the fusion and industry team help you become part of this multibillion Euro sector.