Five sites have been shortlisted to host the UK's STEP fusion energy demonstration (photo credit: UKAEA)The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) announced that five sites had been shortlisted for the UK’s Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) fusion energy plant. A final decision on the plant’s location will be made by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy around the end of 2022, UKAEA said. 

Originally 15 sites were selected following an open call for sites between December 2020 and March 2021. Five have been shortlisted following an initial phase of assessment. These are:

  • Ardeer (North Ayrshire)
  • Goole (East Riding of Yorkshire)
  • Moorside (Cumbria)
  • Ratcliffe-on-Soar (Nottinghamshire)
  • Severn Edge (South Gloucestershire & Gloucestershire)

STEP is a government-backed programme to build a prototype fusion energy plant in the UK. The STEP plant aims to generate net electricity as well as demonstrating how the plant will be maintained and how it will produce its own fuel. STEP is expected to create thousands of highly-skilled jobs during construction and operations and attract other high-tech industries to its host region, furthering the development of science and technology capabilities locally and nationally.

STEP will pave the way to the commercialisation of fusion and the potential development of a fleet of future plants around the world. UKAEA is targeting first operations in the early 2040s. 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.

George Freeman, Minister for Science, Research and Innovation said: “Fusion energy has the potential to be a truly revolutionary and inexhaustible energy source that can help us reduce our dependence on unreliable fossil fuels and tackle climate change. By building the foundations to unlock the power of fusion energy, including the location of the UK’s first prototype fusion power plant, we are positioning the UK as a global leader in this safe and sustainable power source.”

STEP Programme Director at UKAEA, Paul Methven, said the shortlisting of sites is a significant step for the programme. “Through the next phase of assessment, we look forward to working with the shortlisted sites and local communities to gain a more in-depth understanding of the socio-economic, commercial and technical conditions associated with each site, before we make our final recommendations to the Secretary of State in 2022.”

In addition to its initial £222 million commitment to STEP, the government has already invested £184 million for new fusion facilities, infrastructure and apprenticeships at Culham Science Centre near Oxford and at Rotherham, South Yorkshire. Earlier the government published a green paper on the future of fusion energy regulation and a separate Fusion Strategy.

Photo: Five sites have been shortlisted to host the UK's STEP fusion energy demonstration (photo credit: UKAEA)