Gloucestershire site shortlisted for location of new prototype nuclear power plant

Artist's impression of the new STEP fusion reactor. Pic from UK Atomic Energy Authority, 14/10/21.
A cut-away Illustration of what a UK STEP (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production) facility would look like. Credit: UK Atomic Energy Authority.

A site in Gloucestershire is under consideration as a possible location for a new prototype nuclear power plant.

Severn Edge has been shortlisted as a potential home for a new fusion energy plant, as part of the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) programme.

The location is one of five sites across the UK chosen by the Department of Business, Energy and Industry Strategy (BEIS).

The Department and the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) believes fusion is a "potentially world changing energy source" which could "help sustain the low carbon economies of the future".

It says fusion plants would be able to provide a "virtually limitless supply of low-carbon energy".

The new fusion plant would also "support thousands of highly skilled jobs" and "stimulate" the beginnings of fusion industry in the UK, according to the two authorities.

What is a fusion plant?

A fusion plant would copy the processes which power the sun and the stars, where atoms are fused to release energy. Atomic fusion produces nearly four times more energy for every kilogram of fuel than coal, oil or gas.

STEP is a government-backed programme which supports building fusion plants. It aims to generate net electricity, demonstrate how a fusion plant would be maintained and how it would produce its own fuel.

The programme also hopes to pave the way for the commercialisation of fusion and the potential development of a fleet of future plants around the world.

'A truly revolutionary and inexhaustible energy source'

The UKAEA says it hopes to see a working fusion plant operating in the early 2040s.

George Freeman, the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, believes building the country's first prototype fusion power plant would "position the UK as a global leader in this safe and sustainable power source."

He 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."

The director of STEP at UKAEA, Paul Methven, said the shortlist is a "significant step" for the programme, as it "helps bring this challenging, long-term endeavour to life in the here and now.

He added: "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."

'Gloucestershire at the forefront of the green industrial revolution'

Gloucestershire County Council says the plant could have a massive impact on economic regeneration across a vast area - stretching from Cornwall to the West Midlands and Wales. This would include priority areas in the government’s Levelling Up Fund agenda, such as Gloucester, the Forest of Dean and Stroud.

Cllr Mark Hawthorne, leader of Gloucestershire County Council, said: “It’s fantastic news that the Severn Edge nomination has made the shortlist, which has put us a step closer to being at the forefront of the green industrial revolution.

In South Gloucestershire, the leader of the council, Toby Savage, said he is "delighted" to see Severn Edge shortlisted.

He added he hopes the strength of the region's supply chains, and its proximity to the Culham Centre for Fusion Technology, in Oxfordshire, will lead to "a long-term investment in safe, renewable energy in South Gloucestershire.”

When might Severn Edge be selected?

Fifteen sites were long-listed following an open call for locations between December 2020 and March 2021.

In the next assessment phase, the UKAEA will work with the five shortlisted sites and local communities to gain a more in-depth understanding of the socio-economic, commercial and technical conditions at each location.

The winning location will be chosen by the BEIS Secretary of State at the end of 2022.

The four other sites being considered are:

  • Ardeer (North Ayrshire)

  • Goole (East Riding of Yorkshire)

  • Moorside (Cumbria)

  • Ratcliffe-on-Soar (Nottinghamshire)