West Burton to host STEP prototype fusion energy plant

West Burton in Nottinghamshire has been selected to host STEP (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production), the UK’s prototype fusion energy plant.


STEP is a programme run by the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), which is carrying out fusion energy research on behalf of the government. According to UKAEA, STEP will demonstrate the ability to generate net electricity from fusion, determine how the plant will be maintained through its operational life, and prove the potential for the plant to produce its own fuel. The new facility in the east midlands is expected to be built by 2040.

The STEP programme is predicted to create thousands of highly skilled jobs during construction and operations, as well as attracting other industries to the region, and further the development of science and technology capabilities nationally. The programme will also commit immediately to the development of apprenticeship schemes in the region.

The government is providing £220m of funding for the first phase of STEP, which will see the UKAEA produce a concept design by 2024.

The announcement has been welcomed by the Nuclear Industry Association, stating that the project is an opportunity for West Burton and the wider region to become a world-leader in fusion research.

“This is a huge moment for fusion energy in the UK. The STEP project will bring real benefits, including good jobs, opportunities for local companies and an ambition to drive skills and investment in the community,” said NIA chief executive Tom Greatrex. “As we look to moving away from fossil fuels towards net zero, it is important that we find new ways of meeting our growing energy demands.

Greatrex continued: “Fusion offers the opportunity to produce virtually limitless energy that will power low-carbon economies across the world. The UK can play a central role in making that a reality.”

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.

Commenting on the announcement, Professor Martin Freer, director of the Birmingham Energy Institute and the Energy Research Accelerator said: “Fusion has the potential to be transformative for the way we produce energy here in the UK. It could provide an almost limitless supply of safe, clean electricity and help with the toughest decarbonisation challenges by using heat to manufacture hydrogen and synthetic clean fuels – other areas where our region and ERA have expertise. We look forward to building on our work with the UKAEA, bringing the region’s first-class skills and innovation capabilities to bear on this exciting project.”