The UK Atomic Energy Authority (‘UKAEA’) and First Light Fusion (‘First Light’) have signed an agreement for the design and construction of a new purpose-built facility to house First Light’s "Machine 4" at UKAEA’s Culham Campus in Oxfordshire.

This further adds to Culham Campus’s status as a leading location for public-private partnerships in fusion energy development.

The partnership with UKAEA and the announcement of the proposed construction of the building for “Machine 4” follows the recent confirmation of net energy gain by the National Ignition Facility (NIF), at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Like NIF, First Light is pursuing an “inertial confinement” approach to fusion. First Light’s method leverages the same physics proven by NIF but combines it with a unique approach which involves firing a projectile at a fuel pellet to force it to fuse and produce energy. This approach has been validated by UKAEA.

Although the machine itself will not generate power, it will be used to develop technology needed for future inertial confinement fusion energy power plants.

First Light has appointed technical building design specialists, Ramboll, and architects, Scott Brownrigg. Construction is anticipated to begin in 2024 with operations likely to commence in 2027.

First Light believes locating Machine 4 at Culham Campus will bring significant advantages that will expedite its development, including UKAEA’s existing expertise and supply chain infrastructure. First Light has worked constructively with UKAEA for many years.

Professor Sir Ian Chapman, CEO of UKAEA, said:

“We are delighted that this First Light Fusion demonstration facility will be at Culham. We have enjoyed a long relationship with First Light Fusion as it has progressed its unique projectile fusion method, and worked with them to validate their maiden fusion result in 2022. First Light joins other fusion pioneers in working at Culham as we continue to drive UK economic growth and a thriving fusion industry.”

Dr Nick Hawker, Co-founder and CEO of First Light Fusion, said:

“We welcome the continued support of the UKAEA and look forward to working with them to rapidly advance the construction of this facility and our gain machine. With this agreement in place, and contracts signed with designers and architects, we can accelerate our development timeframe. The recent gain result from the National Ignition Facility in California proved what we always knew – that inertial confinement fusion works and offers the potential for a faster route to commercial fusion. It also had considerable positive repercussions for us at First Light. Our approach leverages the same physics now proven by NIF but combines it with a unique approach that gets to a competitive cost point in a truly scalable manner. We’ve already proven fusion. Gain is our next milestone. We are very confident Machine 4 will allow us to achieve this, while we continue to develop plans for a pilot commercial fusion powerplant.”