Government shortlists Gloucestershire and South Glos for UK fusion energy plant

Severn Estuary fusion power plant

Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire’s bid to host a new fusion energy plant has made it into the final five shortlisted to become the future home of the UK’s prototype fusion energy power plant – the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production, or STEP.

STEP is a government-backed programme to build a prototype fusion energy plant in the UK. The STEP plant aims to generate net electricity as well as demonstrating how the plant will be maintained and how it will produce its own fuel.

The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) say that the newly-named ‘Severn Edge’ bid to develop the initial £220 million plant has made it to the last five, and is now competing against Ardeer (North Ayrshire), Goole (East Riding of Yorkshire), Moorside (Cumbria) and Ratcliffe-on-Soar (Nottinghamshire).

STEP will pave the way to the commercialisation of fusion and the potential development of a fleet of future plants around the world. The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) is targeting first operations in the early 2040s.

George Freeman, Minister for Science, Research and Innovation said: “Fusion energy has the potential to be a truly revolutionary and inexhaustible energy source that can help us reduce our dependence on unreliable fossil fuels and tackle climate change.”

“By building the foundations to unlock the power of fusion energy, including the location of the UK’s first prototype fusion power plant, we are positioning the UK as a global leader in this safe and sustainable power source.”

Paul Methven, STEP Programme Director at UKAEA, said: “The shortlisting of sites is a significant step for the programme as it helps bring this challenging, long-term endeavour to life in the here and now. It also increases our focus as we push on with design and delivery of what we hope is the world’s first fusion power plant prototype.

“Through the next phase of assessment, we look forward to working with the shortlisted sites and local communities to gain a more in-depth understanding of the socio-economic, commercial and technical conditions associated with each site, before we make our final recommendations to the Secretary of State in 2022.”

Katherine Bennett, Chair of the Western Gateway partnership, said: “It’s fantastic to see the government honouring the commitments to prioritise the hosting of a STEP fusion site on merit.

“We truly believe that the Western Gateway geography offers an unrivalled breadth of skills, supply chain and technology to deliver this pioneering approach to renewable energy.

“I am very excited about the next phase of work with UKAEA, as we continue the assessment process and work together towards a hugely significant piece of infrastructure for the region and for the UK.”

Andy Bates, of Nuclear South West, the industry body powered by Business West, said: “We believe that our Severn Edge nomination is very strong scientifically and technically.

“We have an incredible scientific and engineering base here, with high temperature expertise being a particular strength. We are also one of the leading regions in digital and digital design, which will be crucial to the success of STEP.”

The Severn Edge team believe that the site’s proximity to the Culham Centre for Fusion Technology in Oxfordshire will be an added advantage in the final selection process.

“Culham is just 60 miles away and is the beating heart of fusion technology in the UK”, said Andy Bates, ”and we see Severn Edge as the lungs in that fusion body. These are very exciting times for this region.”

Professor Tom Scott, one of the Severn Edge nomination team and co-director of the South West Nuclear Hub at the University of Bristol, said: “The region has a vibrant supply chain and base for building nuclear reactors as well as all the leftover expertise in high temperature materials. So, we have the site and the skilled people to deliver this fantastic world-leading project that will ‘Level Up’ for the South West and wider geography in terms of jobs and prosperity.”

In addition to its initial £222 million commitment to STEP, the government has already invested £184 million for new fusion facilities, infrastructure and apprenticeships at Culham Science Centre near Oxford and at Rotherham, South Yorkshire.

Earlier this month the Government published a green paper on the future of fusion energy regulation and a separate Fusion Strategy.