West of England fusion bid through to next round

Severn Estuary fusion power plant

The West of England’s bid to host a new fusion energy plant has gone through to the next round, the government revealed this morning.

Fifteen sites across the UK are now in the running to become the future home of the UK’s prototype fusion energy power plant – the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production, or STEP.

The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) say that the newly-named ‘Severn Edge’ bid to develop the initial £220 million plant, led by the Western Gateway, is one of 15 nominations to pass the initial assessment stage.

Western Gateway is an 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.

The bid, made in March, followed a call for expressions of interest 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 successful site for STEP will become a global hub for fusion energy and associated industries, creating thousands of highly skilled jobs during the construction and operation of the plant, while attracting investment that will enable the development of a new UK science and technology centre of excellence.

Fusion has the potential to provide an abundant source of low-carbon energy by copying the processes that power the sun and stars. This exciting new technology will play an important role alongside established renewable technologies such as wind and solar.

STEP will be the UK’s prototype fusion plant and is intended to pave the way for commercial fusion power. UKAEA is targeting first operations in the early 2040s, with initial aims to produce a concept design by 2024.

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.

Katherine Bennett CBE, chair of the Western Gateway Partnership, said: “I am delighted that the Severn Edge nomination has progressed through the showstopper stage for this internationally significant infrastructure project”.

“We have had a fantastic opportunity to co-lead the co-ordination and preparation for the Severn Edge submission alongside some of the leading nuclear, academic and business partners in the South West-notably Nuclear South West and the South West Nuclear Hub.”

Andy Bates, of Nuclear South West, the industry body overseen by Business West, said: “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”.

And 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”.

Katherine Bennett added: “This is exactly the sort of major infrastructure project with multiple cross-border and cross-sectorial benefits that our Partnership has been established to drive and champion.

“We believe there is a demonstrable cross-border opportunity across our geography, deploying Welsh steel, engaging the enormous Hinkley supply chain, and even adding significant value to the likes of the Cornish lithium industry and manufacturing up to and across the Midlands Engine.

“We feel that the Western Gateway is the business and academic leading area in nuclear and related industries of engineering, advanced manufacturing and digital.

“Our proximity to the existing technology at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire presents a well-rounded offer to the UKAEA for the Oldbury and Berkeley sites which have combined in the Severn Edge nomination”.