West Burton in Nottinghamshire has been selected as the home for the UK’s first fusion energy plant being developed as part of the Government-backed Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) project.
The plant, which will be built by 2040, will aim to deliver safe, sustainable, low carbon energy for the UK on its path towards net zero emissions. Because of this profile, fusion could have a significant role in a low-carbon economy in the UK.
The UK government also revealed it 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. This builds on an initial £200 million investment to support the first five-years of development in 2019.
“We welcome today’s 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,” said Professor Martin Freer, director of the Birmingham Energy Institute and the Energy Research Accelerator.
“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.”
Nuclear fusion forms part of the government’s long-term plans to harness new technologies to build what it described as a “strong, home-grown energy sector” that reduces reliance on fossil fuels and exposure to volatile global gas prices.
As part of this commitment, the development of this fusion project had been outlined in the UK’s fusion strategy, which featured two overarching goals.
These included demonstrating the commercial viability of fusion by building a prototype fusion power plant in the UK that puts energy on the grid and for the UK to build a world-leading fusion industry which can export fusion technology around the world in subsequent decades.
An emphasis on the development of nuclear fusion had also been earmarked as part of July’s landmark Energy Bill. One of the measures within the leveraging private investment segment of the Bill, stated that the UK would be the first country in the world to legislate for fusion energy.
A clear regulatory regime for fusion energy facilities and the removal of uncertainty for the industry would also be provided by Government to support this.
In October 2021, the Government launched a consultation into regulatory proposals for nuclear fusion, the responses to which would help form the new regime.
In this consultation, the Government proposed to clarify fusion’s status with regards to existing nuclear regulations and introduce new provisions necessary for the efficient, effective and proportionate regulation of fusion power plants.
The Government also called to work with regulators to consider whether and how enhanced engagement and new guidance for fusion developers could help support the safe and rapid deployment and commercialisation of fusion energy technology, among other proposals.