The UK government has announced that the West Burton power station site in Nottinghamshire has been selected as the home for ‘STEP’ (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production), the UK’s prototype nuclear fusion energy plant which aims to be built by 2040.
Fusion is based on the same physical reactions that power the sun and stars, and is the process by which two light atomic nuclei combine while releasing large amounts of energy. According to physicists, the technology has significant potential to deliver safe, sustainable, low-carbon energy for future generations.
The government-backed STEP programme hopes to create thousands of highly skilled jobs during construction and operations, as well as attracting other high tech industries to the region, and furthering the development of science and technology capabilities nationally.
The ambitious programme will also commit to the development of apprenticeship schemes in the region, building on the success of the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA) Oxfordshire Advanced Skills centre in Culham. Conversations with local providers and employers have already begun, with schemes to start as soon as possible.
The UK government is providing £220 million of funding for the first phase of STEP, which will see the UK Atomic Energy Authority produce a concept design by 2024.
The Nuclear Industry Association has welcomed the announcement, with chief executive Tom Greatrex saying: “This is a huge moment for fusion energy in the UK. The STEP project will bring real benefits, including good jobs, opportunities for local companies and an ambition to drive skills and investment in the community.
“As we look to moving away from fossil fuels towards net-zero, it is important that we find new ways of meeting our growing energy demands. Fusion offers the opportunity to produce virtually limitless energy that will power low-carbon economies across the world. The UK can play a central role in making that a reality.”
Professor Martin Freer, director of the Birmingham Energy Institute and the Energy Research Accelerator said: “We welcome the announcement of the selection of West Burton as home for the UK’s first STEP plant. The site is part of ‘Megawatt Valley’ and has been crucial to the UK’s power generation industry for decades.
“Fusion has the potential to be transformative for the way we produce energy here in the UK. It could provide an almost limitless supply of safe, clean electricity and help with the toughest decarbonisation challenges by using heat to manufacture hydrogen and synthetic clean fuels – other areas where our region and ERA have expertise. We look forward to building on our work with the UKAEA, bringing the region’s first-class skills and innovation capabilities to bear on this exciting project.”