Fusion reactor bid moves forward as judges visit Copeland

Artist's impression of the new STEP fusion reactor. Pic from UK Atomic Energy Authority, 14/10/21.
An artist's impression of the new reactor. Credit: UK Atomic Energy Authority

Judges from the UK Atomic Energy Authority have visited Copeland to see if the borough could accommodate a groundbreaking prototype fusion reactor.

Copeland Borough Council is collaborating with Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership and the private sector on a bid to host the UK first technology.

Although it is a prototype, the reactor would be used to demonstrate the commercial viability of nuclear fusion for clean energy.

The Moorside site neighbouring Sellafield is in the final five of a competition to site the STEP reactor and a recommendation could be made as early as Easter.

UKAEA judges visited Copeland on January 27 to inspect the site, the community, and hear from supporters of the bid. A virtual event took place on January 31, giving the public a chance to have their say.

Copeland Council's nuclear boss David Moore and Cumbria LEP chairman Lord Inglewood hope that judges will see Copeland's suitability as a host site.

Lord Inglewood said: "It's a significantly different form of nuclear but I would like to think our nuclear expertise would stand us in good stead."

He called Copeland "a real contender" in the race which sees the area pitted against Ardeer in North Ayrshire, Goole in East Yorkshire, West Burton in Nottinghamshire, and Severn Edge in Gloucestershire.

Lord Inglewood said: "Sometimes I think in Cumbria we under-sell ourselves. We've got an awful lot going for ourselves and we don't want to be inhibited about selling those in a sensible way. The whole Moorside partnership is working together as one.

"The final decision is taken by the Secretary of State for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, which is Kwasi Kwarteng. The UKAEA has indicated they'll advise the Secretary of State about their feelings on this around Easter time."

Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, who will make the final decision. Credit: PA Images

As well as creating jobs at Moorside, a successful bid to host the prototype reactor would be good news for the private sector in the wider area.

Lord Inglewood said: "You get a lot of really high-tech business around it also."

Although a recommendation could be made to Mr Kwarteng this year, the UKAEA are playing the long game. Whoever is successful in hosting the reactor will see shovels in the ground in five to seven years time.

Lord Inglewood said: "It's a long-term proposal but at the end of the day we've got to focus on the long-term."