Five sites have been shortlisted as the potential future home of the UK’s prototype fusion energy plant – the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production, or “STEP”.
The sites, listed here alphabetically, are: Ardeer (North Ayrshire) Goole (East Riding of Yorkshire) Moorside (Cumbria) Ratcliffe-on-Soar (Nottinghamshire) Severn Edge (South Gloucestershire & Gloucestershire) Fifteen sites were long-listed following an open call for sites between December 2020 and March 2021. Today, following an initial phase of assessment, the shortlist has been published. 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. STEP will create thousands of highly-skilled jobs during construction and operations and attract other high-tech industries to its host region, furthering the development of science and technology capabilities locally and nationally. Fusion has the potential to provide a near-limitless source of low carbon energy by copying the processes that power the sun and stars where atoms are fused to release energy, creating nearly four million times more energy for every kilogram of fuel than burning coal, oil or gas. 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. STEP is a UKAEA programme. UKAEA carries out fusion energy research on behalf of the UK government. 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.