Could the South West be poised to deliver a new dawn for fusion power?

Fusion

The South West of England is ready to deliver on pioneering Government-backed plans for the UK to host the world’s first fusion power plant.

Nuclear South West, which draws together the region’s nuclear industry, academic and public sectors to champion the South West, is confident that the area is ready to rise to the challenge of hosting a prototype nuclear fusion power plant.

Leading figures from across the region are now advocating the South West in response to Business and Energy Secretary Alok Sharma calling for the UK “to be a trailblazer in developing fusion energy”, producing electricity by 2040.

In an announcement today, Alok Sharma said that communities had an “incredible opportunity to secure their place in the history books” by helping the UK to be the first country in the world to commercialise fusion power.”

UK regions and communities are invited to put forward proposals to become the home of STEP – the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production – the UK’s ambitious programme to design and build a prototype fusion plant.

Communities will have until the end of March 2021 to submit their nominations and will need to demonstrate that their local area has just the right mix of social, commercial and technical conditions to host the new plant – such as adequate land conditions, grid connection and water supply.

“Fusion technology uses the same principles that power our sun; it is zero carbon, uses naturally abundant fuels and can solve many of the challenges associated with the UK becoming a net zero carbon economy by 2050,” said Andy Bates, Innovation Lead at Nuclear South West, the industry body backed by Business West.

The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) has announced an initial investment of £220 million for a Fusion Technical Centre, which will develop into a multi-£bn investment and could create thousands of highly skilled jobs once the location for the new centre has been chosen and the power plant begins construction.

Back in the 1950s, South West England led the world in the development of nuclear power and this latest announcement from the UKAEA, could again see the South West lead the world in the development of fusion power and be at the forefront of the Government’s green revolution.

Professor Tom Scott, Co-Director of the South West Nuclear Hub, said: “Establishing a fusion technical centre here in the South West will give the UK its best chance in what is the UK’s nuclear equivalent of a moon-shot project.

“From lithium produced in Cornwall that will be used to power the fusion plant; to construction excellence in Somerset that will be used to build it; through to leading materials and engineering expertise in Bristol, the South West is a thriving nuclear centre ready to deliver the needs of a fusion power plant.”

Building on its commitment to drive forward the UK transition to a zero-carbon economy by 2050, the region – which also boasts high-temperate materials expertise in Gloucestershire – is already investing heavily in infrastructure to advance fusion power.

Matt Burley, Chair of Nuclear South West said: “The UK finds itself at the forefront of the energy revolution and the South West is uniquely placed to deliver this once in a generation opportunity for the UK.

“The South West boasts world-class advanced engineering sectors in nuclear and aerospace, both vital for fusion technology.

“We also have well-developed marine, digital, and photonics clusters, all with highly innovative workforces uniquely positioned to adapt and develop commercial fusion.  We are ready, willing and able to support this critical investment.”

Fusion power has the potential to transform the energy sector and create a new generation of highly skilled scientists, engineers and technicians.

“The Government’s commitment to fusion power is fantastic for the UK and South West England, with its unique capabilities in power plant construction, high-temperature materials expertise, robotics and digital design,” said Karl Tucker, Chair of the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership.

“This opportunity reinforces the role the South West has to play in helping the UK meet its clean energy targets for the future. Fusion will not only deliver a big step forward technologically; it also has the potential to significantly contribute to the UK’s levelling up agenda.”

In addition to its £222 million commitment to STEP, the government has also invested £184 million by 2025 in new fusion facilities, infrastructure and apprenticeships at the Culham Science Centre in Oxfordshire, providing further support to this important centre of fusion and innovation.

UK Atomic Energy Authority CEO Professor Ian Chapman said: “STEP is about moving from research and development to delivery.

“It will prove that fusion is not a far-off dream, but a dawning reality with the UK leading the commercial development of fusion power and positioning itself as a pioneer in sustainable fusion energy.

“To achieve this ambitious goal will require all the ingenuity and application of the UK’s science and engineering industry and we look forward to working with industrial partners in the years ahead, not just to invest, but also to support the technical evolution of the programme.

“We are confident that working together with partners in the UK and around the world will enable the UK to bring a revolutionary technology to market.”

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