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Moorside selected as Cumbria's contender for national STEP fusion reactor competition

The Moorside site in West Cumbria has been selected as Cumbria’s contender to go forward to UKAEA’s national competition to identify the site to host the UK’s first prototype nuclear fusion plant and surrounding science, technology and business park.

The site, adjacent to the Sellafield nuclear complex, emerged as the favoured Cumbrian location following a mini-siting competition led by Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership (CLEP) on behalf of a range of partners.

Fusion represents the next generation of clean energy production and was described by Professor Stephen Hawking in 2010 as the one scientific discovery or advance he felt would most 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.

CLEP launched its mini-siting competition in December and engaged global engineering, management and development consultants Mott MacDonald to assist with the assessment process.

CLEP Chief Executive Jo Lappin said: “We’re very grateful to all who expressed an interest in the process and we believe that we have found a site that more than meets the requirements of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, the body that will ultimately make the final recommendation to Government.

“The STEP programme is an innovative and exciting opportunity to take clean energy production to the next level and we believe that Cumbria can help the UK to be at the forefront of that process. Our outstanding heritage in this area means that we are exceptionally well placed to deliver, given our skills, experience and expertise in the nuclear industry. We hope the whole of Cumbria can get behind the selection of Moorside as our candidate to go forward to the national competition.”

Dr Rebecca Weston, Chair of CLEP’s Clean Energy Sector Panel and Chief Operating Officer at Sellafield Ltd, said: “I’m very pleased of the progress that we have made in a short space of time to identify a preferred site to go forward representing the whole of Cumbria.

“The potential for fusion technology is considerable. Although the idea is not new, it’s only relatively recently that the science and engineering have the science programme has sufficiently delivered to move fusion for power generation to the point of starting to make it an engineering reality.

“The aspiration to realise these new possibilities, coupled with Cumbria’s existing clean energy pedigree, makes a compelling combination and I look forward to submitting our application to UKAEA.”

Moorside had previously been identified as the proposed location for a new nuclear power generation site for NuGeneration, a British subsidiary of Toshiba-owned Westinghouse Electric Company. However, that plan did not go ahead. The site remains under consideration as a possible location for other forms of low-carbon power generation, however, it is felt that the STEP project would complement other potential developments.

Pat Graham, Chief Executive of Copeland Borough Council said “I am delighted that the Moorside site has been chosen as Cumbria’s preferred site to go forward into the national siting competition. Copeland is ideally placed to host the STEP prototype given our excellent nuclear credentials and considerable experience in major nuclear developments. Helpfully, STEP could sit alongside other clean energy developments that could take place at Moorside and in Copeland, more generally.”

STEP is expected to 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.

The Government’s deadline for submission of siting proposals is 31 March 2021. The UKAEA recommendation to Government 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

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