A new collaboration has been announced between the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) aimed at progressing the UK’s nuclear fusion programme.
Under the collaboration, STFC and UKAEA will launch a Centre of Excellence in Extreme Scale Computing in Fusion, to be located at STFC’s Hartree Centre, at its Daresbury Laboratory in the North West of England.
STFC’s Hartree Centre is home to advanced computing, data and AI technologies, and the collaboration will enable UKAEA to locate staff at the Hartree Centre and to grow sophisticated computing capabilities for the delivery of commercial fusion.
Alison Kennedy, Director at STFC’s Hartree Centre, said: “This new centre will allow fusion specialists to work shoulder to shoulder with our own scientists and engineers to co-design tools and methods for accelerating the UK fusion programme. Our relationship will further enhance our current collaborations with ATOS, Nvidia, IBM and other vendors.”
A major theme for the collaboration will be to exploit the predicted confluence of High-Performance Computing and Artificial Intelligence at the ‘exascale’ – a turning point in computing where some have suggested that computers, capable of performing one quintillion mathematical operations per second (or an ‘exaflop’), will have power comparable with the human brain.
Fusion’s technical challenges
Fusion energy is highly attractive as part of the future low-carbon energy supply, but there remain technical challenges to be overcome. These include producing and managing the ‘plasma’, as well as challenges in materials and engineering design.
This collaboration will apply the latest computing systems, supercomputing and data science expertise together with complex modelling and simulation to address some of these challenges, including understanding and modelling plasma, and producing ‘Digital Twins’ of future fusion power plants.
The converging landscape of supercomputing and Artificial Intelligence, combined with this unique collaboration, will accelerate the technology roadmap needed to make clean energy from fusion a reality and will establish the UK as an international leader in applying extreme-scale computing to fusion engineering design.
Tim Bestwick, Chief Technology Officer at the UK Atomic Energy Authority, said: “The Hartree Centre and UKAEA each have extraordinary world-leading capabilities in their fields, so this unique relationship can really accelerate the vital mission of developing sustainable fusion energy – which we believe will play a key role in our low-carbon future.”