The UKAEA has launched a siting process for STEPOn 2 December, the UK government announced that the siting portal for the UK’s prototype fusion energy plant is open. They called on local communities across the country to put forward proposals to host STEP – the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production, a key element of the Prime Minister’s green energy revolution.

The design and construction of STEP will be delivered through UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), targeting completion around 2040. STEP will be an integrated plant, with much of the infrastructure of a power station, and will demonstrate the commercial viability of fusion.

The UKAEA’s Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) said the plant will pave the way to a fleet of commercial plants in the second half of the century, providing a virtually limitless supply of low carbon, clean energy and helping to create thousands of highly-skilled jobs.

“Communities have until the end of March 2021 to submit their nominations and will need to demonstrate that their local area has just the right mix of social, commercial and technical conditions to host the new plant. The successful site will be home to the construction of STEP and will become a global hub for fusion energy and associated industries,” CCFE said.

Business and Energy Secretary Alok Sharma said: “We want the UK to be a trailblazer in developing fusion energy by capitalising on its incredible potential as a limitless clean energy source that could last for generations to come. In addition to its £222 million ($297 million) commitment to STEP, the government will also invest £184 million by 2025 in new fusion facilities, infrastructure and apprenticeships at CCFE.

UKAEA CEO Professor Ian Chapman said: “STEP is about moving from research and development to delivery. It will prove that fusion is not a far-off dream, but a dawning reality with the UK leading the commercial development of fusion power and positioning itself as a pioneer in sustainable fusion energy.” He added: ““To achieve this ambitious goal will require all the ingenuity and application of the UK’s science and engineering industry and we look forward to working with industrial partners in the years ahead, not just to invest, but also to support the technical evolution of the programme. We are confident that working together with partners in the UK and around the world will enable the UK to bring a revolutionary technology to market.”

The aim for the first phase of work on STEP is to produce a ‘concept design’ by 2024. The next phase of work will include detailed engineering design, while all relevant permissions and consents to build the prototype are sought. The final phase is construction, with operations targeted to begin around 2040. The aim is to have a fully evolved design and approval to build by 2032, enabling construction to begin. On conclusion of its assessment, UKAEA will make a recommendation to the Secretary of State for BEIS with the successful site announced around the end of 2022.

UKAEA oversees Britain’s fusion programme, headed by the MAST Upgrade (Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak) experiment. It also hosts the world’s largest fusion research facility, JET (Joint European Torus), which it operates for European scientists under a contract with the European Commission. Fusion research at Culham is funded by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council and by the European Union under the Euratom treaty. Brexit has now put the future of JET in some doubt.

Photo: Cutaway of STEP (Credit: UKAEA)