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UK government to invest in nuclear fusion power plant design

LONDON (Reuters) - The British government said on Thursday it will invest 220 million pounds ($270 million) in the design of a nuclear fusion power station to enable a commercially viable plant to be constructed by 2040.

Fusion is a potential form of power generation which could produce clean electricity by using heat from nuclear fusion reactors.

It copies the process which heats the sun and other stars, colliding hydrogen atoms to release large amounts of energy.

Fission, by contrast, splits the nucleus of an atom into two to release a large amounts of energy. It can be controlled more easily and is used in regular nuclear reactors.

Supporters believe fusion could revolutionize energy production, as it does not release carbon emissions and is believed to be safe, but critics say commercially viable fusion remains at least 50 years in the future.

The government said its investment will allow engineers and scientists to produce a conceptual design for the reactor (known as a tokamak) which will generate fusion energy and convert it into electricity.

The UK Atomic Energy Authority and partners from industry will work to complete the design by 2024 at the authority’s Culham Science Centre in Oxfordshire, which is home to a European fusion research programme.

“This is a bold and ambitious investment in the energy technology of the future,” Andrew Leadsom, secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, said in a statement.

“Nuclear fusion has the potential to be an unlimited clean, safe and carbon-free energy source and we want the first commercially viable machine to be in the UK,” she added.

China aims to complete and start generating power from a nuclear fusion reactor by around 2040.

Reporting by Nina Chestney; editing by David Evans