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5 sites shortlisted for UK’s future fusion energy plant

Professional Engineering

How the Step nuclear fusion energy power plant could look (Credit: UKAEA)
How the Step nuclear fusion energy power plant could look (Credit: UKAEA)

The future of nuclear energy in the UK could be determined at one of five sites, revealed in a shortlist of potential locations for the UK’s future fusion energy plant.

The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) revealed the list of sites today (14 October), one of which could be home to the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (Step) plant.  

The sites, picked from a longlist of 15, are:  

  • Ardeer in North Ayrshire 
  • Goole in the East Riding of Yorkshire 
  • Moorside in Cumbria 
  • Ratcliffe-on-Soar in Nottinghamshire 
  • Severn Edge in Gloucestershire 

Step is a government-backed programme to build a prototype fusion energy plant in the UK. The UKAEA aims to generate net electricity, as well as demonstrating how the plant will be maintained and how it will produce its own fuel. 

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. 

The project could create thousands of highly-skilled jobs during construction and operations, and attract other high-tech industries to the area.  

The UKAEA is targeting first operations in the early 2040s. The body, which carries out fusion energy research on behalf of the government, hopes it could pave the way to the commercialisation of fusion and potential development of a fleet of future plants around the world.  

Programme director Paul Methven 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.” 

In addition to its initial £222m commitment to Step, the government has already invested £184m for new fusion facilities, infrastructure and apprenticeships at Culham Science Centre near Oxford and Rotherham, South Yorkshire. 

Earlier this month the government published a green paper on the future of fusion energy regulation, and a separate fusion strategy

Science minister George Freeman 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.” 

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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