UK’s New Extreme Scale Computing Center to Advance Fusion Energy

By Oliver Peckham

August 19, 2021

As the world barrels toward a dark climate future, many people’s hopes increasingly rest with major technological breakthroughs – including, perhaps most famously, fusion energy. Stable fusion energy reactors would reshape the world virtually overnight by providing an enormous amount of low-radioactivity, zero-carbon energy, but stabilizing those reactions has been an extraordinary – and thus far, largely fruitless – struggle for decades. Now, the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) have announced a new extreme scale computing center focused on delivering fusion energy.

The Hartree Centre. Image courtesy of STFC.

The center, as-yet unnamed, will be sited at STFC’s Hartree Centre, an HPC, analytics and AI research facility that is itself located on the Daresbury Laboratory campus in Cheshire. The UKAEA, meanwhile, is a subsidiary of the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and while it was initially responsible for the UK’s nuclear power and weapons programs, its predominant function in the present is the advancement of commercially viable fusion energy. The UKAEA operates a fusion technology facility in South Yorkshire, near the site for the new center.

“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,” said Tim Bestwick, CTO of UKAEA.

Specifically, the new center will focus on developing the researchers’ understanding and modeling of plasma in fusion reactions, as well as developing digital twins of planned fusion power plants. To do this, the center will leverage HPC and AI, with the announcement hinting that the center will exploit exascale supercomputing to achieve its ambitious goals.

“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,” said Alison Kennedy, director of the Hartree Centre. “Our relationship will further enhance our current collaborations with ATOS, Nvidia, IBM and other vendors … we believe strongly that Hartree Centre has unique, world-class expertise that will be essential for the timely delivery of commercial fusion energy.”

The UK has strongly emphasized fusion energy in its policies, including through its “ten point plan for a green industrial revolution,” which was released in late 2020. Kennedy said that the Hartree Centre was “excited” about the prioritization of fusion energy in the plan, saying that “our own roadmap is strongly aligned with this document.”

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