STEP Powerplant illustration

Possible sites for UK’s first fusion power plant revealed

Image credit: UK Atomic Energy Authority

The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) has asked residents in five areas to provide feedback on potential plans to construct a prototype nuclear fusion power plant.

The Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) programme is seeking to ease the development of commercial fusion power plants that are capable of producing a limitless supply of low-carbon, clean energy.

It will also showcase how a future fusion power station will be operated and maintained. The government committed £220m for the conceptual design of the power station in 2020 as part of efforts to move the UK towards a zero-carbon energy network.

STEP has been conceived as a successor of sorts to the ITER tokamak proof-of-concept fusion plant that has been under construction in France since 2013. ITER’s main reactor is planned to be completed in late 2025 and is designed to create and sustain a plasma of 500MW (thermal power) for 20 minutes, with just 50MW of thermal power injected into the reactor.

This would demonstrate the principle of producing more thermal power than is used to heat the plasma and would pave the way towards commercialisation of nuclear fusion.

UKAEA is now trying to find a site to host its STEP project and will engage with residents and stakeholders to explain the benefits of fusion energy alongside the potential jobs it could create.

The STEP site will ultimately be selected by the top minister at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

The final decision on the successful site is expected around the end of this year and UKAEA said its final recommendations would be based on a set of criteria, including support from the local community and the potential for local socio-economic benefits.

The shortlisted locations for STEP are: Ardeer, North Ayrshire; Moorside, Cumbria; Goole, East Yorkshire; West Burton, Nottinghamshire and Severn Edge in Gloucestershire.

Tristram Denton, head of commercial and programme development for STEP, said: “STEP is not just of strategic importance to UKAEA, but to the national and global efforts to harness fusion technology in the fight against climate change.

“While it’s still early days, we anticipate that the host region will become a global hub for a wide range of technological and scientific expertise, leading to massive economic opportunities.

“The UK government is committed to net zero by 2050 and fusion is one part of the long-term solution, alongside a continued increase in energy from renewable sources like wind and solar power. The recent COP26 climate conference highlighted the need to push harder and faster, and STEP takes us ever closer to making fusion a reality.”

Last year, US researchers used computer simulations to predict the heat-related damage that ITER is expected to experience through its operation.

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