Site shortlist marks next STEP for fusion energy

Five regions have been shortlisted as potential sites for STEP - Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production STEP - the UK’s prototype fusion energy plant.

fusion energy
Rendition of STEP building (Image: UKAEA)

STEP is a government-backed programme aiming to generate net electricity whilst demonstrating how the plant will be maintained and produce its own fuel.

The shortlisted sites are located at Ardeer in Scotland plus Goole, Moorside, Ratcliffe-on-Soar and Severn Edge in England. As well as creating jobs during construction and operations, STEP is expected to attract other high-tech industries to its host region.

Fusion replicates 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 fossil fuels.

STEP is a programme run by the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), which is carrying out fusion energy research on behalf of the government. STEP is expected to advance the commercialisation of fusion and the potential development of a fleet of future plants globally. UKAEA is targeting first operations in the early 2040s.

In a statement, Paul Methven, STEP programme director at UKAEA, said: “The shortlisting of sites is a significant step for the programme as it helps bring this challenging, long-term endeavour to life in the here and now. It also increases our focus as we push on with design and delivery of what we hope is the world’s first fusion power plant prototype.

“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 £222m commitment to STEP, the government has invested £184m into new fusion facilities, infrastructure and apprenticeships at Culham Science Centre near Oxford and at Rotherham.

Earlier this month the government published a green paper on the future of fusion energy regulation and a separate Fusion Strategy.