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Cumbria takes a major ‘step’ forward on clean energy

The search is on to find the best possible site in Cumbria to submit to the national bidding process to host the UK’s first prototype nuclear fusion power plant, which represents the next generation of clean energy production.

Fusion was described by Professor Stephen Hawking in 2010 as the one scientific discovery or advance he would like to see in his lifetime that would transform society.

In October 2019, UK Government announced an initial £220 million of funding to produce a concept fusion reactor design known as the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) by 2024.

The selection process, led by the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), invites interested parties to bid to be the host location for the facility, which is expected to create 300 jobs directly, with even more in the UK fusion supply chain.

Importantly, the STEP will act as the anchor for a much wider innovation and technology ‘park’ around the development site that will include manufacturing, R&D and education opportunities.

Now, Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership (CLEP) is launching a Cumbrian siting competition to find the most suitable location to put forward as the county’s submission to the national selection process.

A virtual launch event is taking place on Wednesday 16 December at 5pm at which interested parties, including local authorities, landowners and supply chain businesses, can learn more about the process and its potential benefits.

A representative of UKAEA will be presenting at the event and there will be opportunities to ask questions about the siting competition. A place can be secured at:

Dr Rebecca Weston, Chair of CLEP’s Clean Energy Sector Panel and Chief Operating Officer at Sellafield Ltd, said: “Fusion offers an abundant source of cleaner electricity by replicating the processes that power the sun, basically the collision of hydrogen atoms to release large amounts of energy. The idea has been around a long time, but now the science and engineering is in a place, where global researchers are developing fusion reactors that provide the platform to create a commercial technology, with Government wanting the UK to be at the forefront of this.

“Here, in Cumbria, our heritage, experience and expertise in the nuclear field means we have an enormous amount to offer the developing programme – and indeed the STEP ambition can support our existing priorities.”

Jo Lappin, CLEP’s Chief Executive, added: “The STEP programme is an innovative and incredibly exciting opportunity to take clean energy production to the next level and Government wants the UK to be at the forefront of that process.

“Our outstanding heritage in this area means that we are exceptionally well placed to bid into the process. However, it’s important that we find the absolute best site, which the whole of Cumbria can get behind.

“Wednesday’s event represents a significant first step in the process and we encourage all interested parties to get involved.”

STEP is one of several clean energy development opportunities alongside offshore wind, small-scale community projects, emergent hydrogen developments and other new nuclear projects that could lead to Cumbria becoming a national centre of clean energy generation and a positive contributor towards our net zero ambition.

The Government’s deadline for submission of siting proposals is 31 March 2021, so CLEP has set a local deadline of Friday 8 January for potential host sites to come forward.

The UK STEP site will ultimately be selected by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy following a recommendation made by UKAEA.

This recommendation will be made following a rigorous validation and assessment process, based on a set of key criteria covering three main areas:

  • Technical and operational suitability
  • Alignment with STEP’s socio-economic and community benefit principles
  • Support for the commercial progress of the project

UKAEA has issued an open call for sites with the aim of attracting a broad range of potential locations. More detailed information on the criteria and assessment process can be found on the STEP web portal.

The STEP prototype will have many of the features of a fully operational power station, including infrastructure and associated research and development facilities, and is likely to be a delivery project of comparable scale and value.

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