UK government backs prototype STEP fusion energy plant

6 October 2022 | Muriel Cozier

Project seeks to overcome hurdles and commercialise fusion energy plants.

A proposed prototype Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) fusion energy plant will be built at the site of the West Burton Power Station in Nottinghamshire by 2040. As well as demonstrating the ability to put net electricity on the grid, it is also expected that the STEP fusion energy plant will pave the way for the commercialisation of fusion and the development of a fleet of plants around the world.

Fusion has many benefits, including that it is reportedly ‘many million times more efficient, per kilogram, than burning coal, oil or gas.’ However, there remain a number of ‘significant technical hurdles to overcome’, which those behind the STEP prototype programme hope to address.

The UKAEA describes how a STEP plant works.

The UK government is providing £220 million in funding for the first phase of the STEP plant, which will see the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) produce a concept design by 2024, with the plant to be built by 2040.

As well as the potential to deliver safe, sustainable low-carbon energy, the project is set to create thousands of highly skilled jobs during its construction and subsequent operations. The West Burton site, which is home to a coal fired power station owned by EDF, was selected from fifteen potential locations, following a two-year assessment process.

The UK government’s Business & Energy Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg commented: ‘Fusion offers unparalleled potential for clean power production, promising a future of inexhaustible energy that could unshackle us from fossil fuels and make us truly self-sufficient and secure.’ Rees-Mogg added: ‘It could be an industry worth billions of pounds to the UK economy, positioning the UK to design, manufacture and export the first fleet of fusion plants, and putting us as the vanguard of a future market.’

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