The West of England could be home to a cutting-edge technology park and power plant designed to generate climate-friendly electricity, following the formal nomination of land in Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire into a national selection process.
A partnership of local authorities, development bodies, landowners and the training and education sector across the region, today confirmed it had submitted a proposal to host a ‘fusion’ power plant.
The move follows a call for expressions of interest by 31st March from the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) which is developing the new technology.
If successful, the bid will bring billions of pounds of investments and thousands of jobs.
The plant and associated businesses, training and technical facilities would be located on land at two, near-adjacent, former nuclear power station sites at Oldbury-on-Severn and Berkeley. It would be expected to be operational by 2040, with much of the supporting ‘eco-system’ developed in the next 2-10 years.
Fusion technology recreates a reaction similar to that which takes place in the sun, fusing atoms together rather than splitting them. It requires very little fuel to release enormous amounts of energy and produces only small amounts of waste with no carbon emissions. The process also creates hydrogen and helium which have the potential to be hugely valuable in the modern world.
The joint Oldbury and Berkeley nomination was submitted by the Western Gateway; the Anglo-Welsh partnership created to deliver economic development from Swansea to Swindon and from Cheltenham to Weston-Super-Mare and Salisbury.
It has the backing of South Gloucestershire Council, Gloucestershire County Council, Stroud District Council, Nuclear South West,Business West, West of England Combined Authority, West of England LEP, GFirst LEP, South Gloucestershire and Stroud College and Bristol University’s South West Nuclear Hub.
Western Gateway Chair, Katherine Bennett CBE, said: “I am genuinely excited by this nomination and what STEP Fusion could bring to the Western Gateway. We have a phenomenal skills and supply chain base here in Western England and South Wales and assets that are unrivalled anywhere else in the UK. The Partnership Board and our All-Party Parliamentary Group have been engaged in the development of this nomination and this is exactly the sort of major infrastructure project with multiple cross-border and cross-sectoral benefits that our partnership has been established to drive and champion”.
Kevin Hamblin Chief Executive of the SGS College Group, which owns the Gloucestershire Science and Technology Park at Berkeley, said: “STEP is really about the future and the next generation, both in terms of employment and skills, but also for the creation of low carbon technologies to fight climate change. The park is already home to projects working in this space so it fits perfectly into that developing ecosystem. We are delighted to be part of the bid which will see huge opportunities for our learners and young people across the region as well as the hundreds of employers we work with as their training partner.
“As a Further Education college, we see first-hand the growing challenges and inequalities which have broadened and deepened as a result of the tough economic climate and the pandemic, particularly with regard to young people. The UKAEA can tap into the unique advantages of our region, and in doing so, help bring much needed investment and opportunity. It’s a win-win situation.”
Phil Smith, CEO of Business West, said: “The region has always been at the forefront of innovation in power generation. We have modern construction know-how, a skilled workforce and first-class education and training institutes to support a world-leading project.
“We have abundant land, not far from the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire, which is already identified in national and local policy as suitable for power generation development. It’s surrounded by a hotbed of expertise in high technology digital, materials and manufacturing industries.”
Following the nomination of sites, the UKAEA will go through a selection process resulting in a shortlist of three for submission to the Secretary of State for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy. The final selection is expected to take place around the end of 2022.