“They tell me that they are literally only a few years away from being able to provide UK made fusion reactors for sale around the world”

Boris Johnson, live video on Facebook

August 8, 2019

Claim

Johnson told the audience of a Facebook live video broadcast from Downing Street that the UK was only “a few years from being able to provide UK-made fusion reactors for sale around the world.” He claimed he’d been told this on a visit to the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s fusion research facilities at Culham Science Centre in Oxfordshire. 

Johnson repeated the claim in his speech at the Conservative Party conference on 2 October. The prime minister said: “They are on the verge of creating commercially viable miniature fusion reactors for sale around the world.” He added the caveat “I know they have been on the verge for some time” before adding, “It is a pretty spacious kind of verge.”  

Facts

The UKAEA is starting to design a UK compact fusion power station. However, this project aims to put electricity on the grid in a timescale of 20 years. 

Tom Nicholas at the University of York told New Scientist that a commercially viable fusion plant would still not be ready by the 2040s. So much for the idea that fusion reactors were “literally only a few years away.”

Jim Watson, director of the UK Energy Research Centre at University College London, told Research Fortnight that “the implication that fusion is ‘on the verge’ of providing a lot of energy for us is wrong. As many people have pointed out — even the fusion programme’'s own website — it is several decades away.”

Verdict

The UKAEA told me it had nothing to add to the prime minister’s words on fusion research and directed any further questions to the No. 10 communications team. Nevertheless, Johnson’s statement that fusion reactors from the UK are close to being ready for sale appears to have been was false.

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