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Cumbria mounts strong bid to host prototype fusion reactor

Cumbrian leaders are confident that they have made the strongest possible case for the county to be selected as the host location for the UK’s prototype fusion reactor, the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP).

The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA’s) search for the best site in the UK to host STEP is nearing completion, with Cumbria’s Moorside site still very much in the running.

A delegation from UKAEA recently visited the West Cumbrian site, adjacent to the Sellafield complex, and then played host to an online public consultation event aimed at explaining the selection process, which was attended by over 75 people.

Moorside is one of five locations shortlisted by UKAEA as part of a thorough and detailed site selection process. The others are:

  • Ardeer (North Ayrshire)
  • Goole (East Riding of Yorkshire)
  • Severn Edge (South Gloucestershire & Gloucestershire)
  • West Burton (Nottinghamshire)

STEP is an ambitious £222 million investment to support the design and build of a prototype fusion energy plant, with operations set to start in 2040. The programme is being delivered by UKAEA, on behalf of UK Government, with the initial aim being to produce a concept design and choose a site by 2024.

The STEP prototype will be used to develop the technology and enable a fleet of commercial plants to follow in the years after 2040 and will build on UKAEA’s expertise in developing spherical tokamaks.

Fusion is an exciting development, which 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.

STEP is expected to create thousands of highly skilled jobs during construction and operations and act as an anchor to attract other high-tech industries to the area, furthering the development of science and technology capabilities, locally and nationally.

Cumbria’s application was developed by Cumbria LEP and its Board members, together with Copeland Borough Council.

UKAEA’s recent site visit and consultation event, alongside similar activity at the other short-listed locations, will help inform its recommendation on a final decision to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Dr Rebecca Weston, Chair of CLEP’s Clean Energy Sector Panel and Chief Operating Officer at Sellafield Ltd, said: “I was very pleased with the outcome of the site visit. We took the opportunity to highlight the many advantages that Moorside can offer to UKAEA.

“We were also able to highlight the heritage, experience and expertise in nuclear that’s unique to West Cumbria along with local authorities and communities that understand and support innovation in that field.

“I was further delighted that Cumbrian and wider North West stakeholders were able to put forward a unified, persuasive and knowledgeable case to the UKAEA team at the public consultation event.

“STEP has the potential to create a clean, green, safe and abundant energy source, which will genuinely transform energy generation, once operational. This is one of the most exciting projects in the UK and I’m confident that we’ve mounted a compelling case.

“Much work remains for the UKAEA team to fully understand the respective merits of the five applicants before making its recommendation towards the end of this year. We await the final recommendation with great interest.”

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