Five bids shortlisted to host STEP fusion plant

14 October 2021

Five sites - one in Scotland and four in England - have been shortlisted to host the UK's prototype fusion energy plant - the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP). The site of the demonstration plant, due to begin operating by 2040, is expected to be announced at the end of next year.

The five shortlisted sites for STEP (Image: UKAEA)

As set out in Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, released in November 2020, the government wants the UK to be the first country in the world to commercialise fusion energy technology. As part of this, the government aims to demonstrate the commercial viability of fusion by building a prototype fusion power plant.

In December 2020, the government called on local communities across the country to put forward proposals to host the STEP plant. Communities had until the end of March to submit their nominations and were required to demonstrate that their local area has the right mix of social, commercial and technical conditions to host the new plant - such as adequate land conditions, grid connection and water supply. A total of 15 potential sites were subsequently long-listed.

Today, the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) - which carries out fusion energy research on behalf of the government - announced that, following an initial phase of assessment, five bids to host STEP had now been shortlisted. These are: Ardeer in North Ayrshire; Goole in East Riding of Yorkshire; Moorside in Cumbria; Ratcliffe-on-Soar in Nottinghamshire; and the so-called 'Severn Edge' bid from South Gloucestershire and Gloucestershire.

"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," said STEP Programme Director at UKAEA Paul Methven. "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."

A cutaway of the planned STEP building (Image: UKAEA)

The aim for the first phase of work on STEP is to produce a 'concept design' by 2024. The next phase of work will include detailed engineering design, while all relevant permissions and consents to build the prototype are sought. The final phase is construction, with operations targeted to begin around 2040. The aim is to have a fully evolved design and approval to build by 2032, enabling construction to begin.

According to UKAEA, 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." It added, "STEP will pave the way to the commercialisation of fusion and the potential development of a fleet of future plants around the world."

The Ten Point Plan allocated GBP222 million (USD305 million) to begin the STEP design work. In addition, the government has already invested GBP184 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.

"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," said George Freeman, Minister for Science, Research and Innovation. "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."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News