Cumbria pins fusion nuclear hopes on Moorside

The 600-acre site adjacent to the Sellafield nuclear complex has been included in a bid to host the UK’s first prototype nuclear fusion plant and surrounding science, technology and business park.

The Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership is preparing to submit its bid to the UK Atomic Energy Authority, which is running a national competition to identify the best site to host a major nuclear power plant facility.

Fusion nuclear represents the next generation of clean energy production and was described by Professor Stephen Hawking in 2010 as the one scientific advancement that would most transform society, the LEP noted.

The UK Government in 2019 announced an initial £220m of funding for interested parties to produce a concept fusion reactor design known as the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production by 2024. The selection process led by the UKAEA invites parties to bid to be the host location for the facility, which is expected to create 300 direct jobs and more in the wider UK fusion supply chain.

Engineering and project management consultancy Mott MacDonald helped Cumbria LEP with its own siting competition in December, and Moorside has since been named as the preferred location.

The brownfield site was last year identified as the proposed location for a nuclear power generation site for NuGeneration, a British subsidiary of Toshiba-owned Westinghouse Electric Company. But the plan did not go ahead.

The site, which is in mainly in agricultural use at present, remains under consideration as a possible location for other forms of low-carbon power generation, such as a clean energy hub. However, the LEP believes the Step project would complement other potential developments brought forward at the site.

Dr Rebecca Weston, chair of Cumbria LEP’s Clean Energy Sector Panel and chief operating officer of Sellafield, said: “The potential for fusion technology is considerable. Although the idea is not new, it’s only relatively recently that the science and engineering programme nationally has moved forward sufficiently to start making fusion for power generation an engineering reality.

“The aspiration to realise these new possibilities, coupled with Cumbria’s existing clean energy pedigree, makes a compelling combination and I look forward to submitting our application to UKAEA.”

The LEP’s chief executive Jo Lappin added: “The STEP programme is an innovative and exciting opportunity to take clean energy production to the next level and we believe that Cumbria can help the UK to be at the forefront of that process.

“Our outstanding heritage in this area means that we are exceptionally well placed to deliver, given our skills, experience and expertise in the nuclear industry.”

The Government is to make its selection following a rigorous validation and assessment process over the course of the year.

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As a resident of Whitehaven I believe this is great news for the people of West Cumbria and for the nation as a whole. A limitless supply of carbon free electricity replacing our dependence on gas. It would secure high tech skilled jobs for local people and boost the economy of the area. I hope I can see this bid come to fruition in my lifetime. If the idea is good enough for the late Professor Stephen Hawking why would anyone not support it.

By Brian McCarthy

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