Moorside, next to the Sellafield nuclear complex in West Cumbria, together with Heysham near Morecambe, have made it through to the next stage of a siting competition to host the UK’s first prototype fusion power plant.
Fusion represents the next generation of clean energy production but is currently only used in experiments. Government body the UK Atomic Energy Agency made an open call for site bids last year and nominations closed at the end of March.
The agency hopes a concept fusion reactor design, known as the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production, will be developed by 2024. It has now published its longlist of 15 possible locations for the STEP project.
The 600-acre Moorside site in Cumbria, a stretch of brownfield land currently in agricultural use, 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 remains under consideration as a possible location for other forms of low-carbon power generation, such as a clean energy hub. However, the parties that submitted the bid – Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership with Copeland Borough Council and a range of other partners – said in March they believe the Step project would complement other potential developments brought forward at the site.
Engineering and project management consultancy Mott MacDonald helped the LEP to draw up its bid.
The other North West site to have made it through to the longlist is the Lancashire coastal town of Heysham, where two nuclear power stations are located. Bay Fusion, a consortium of companies together with Lancaster City Council, Lancashire County Council, local colleges and universities, submitted the bid this year.
The Secretary of State is expected to decide the winner by around December 2022.
STEP programme director Paul Methven said: “[The project] is about building on the amazing science done over decades in fusion and translating that into a real prototype power plant that paves the way for this fantastic new energy source.
“Selecting a site is critical for that transition to delivery and we are pleased to have received a number of high-quality nominations. We are looking forward to getting to know the nominating communities as we progress through the assessment process over the next year.”
Wherever STEP is eventually built, it will bring “significant benefits to the region”, including employment, skills development and the development of a high-technology, low-carbon supply chain, Methven added.
Cllr David Moore, portfolio holder for nuclear and corporate services at Copeland Council, said locating a fusion nuclear project at Moorside “makes perfect sense as Copeland is the original home of the UK’s nuclear power industry, and has been a pioneer of the development of clean energy generation technologies for many decades.
“Last year we collaborated with Cumbria LEP on the Cumbria Nuclear Prospectus, which sets out our vision for a clean energy hub around Moorside – STEP at Moorside would be the catalyst for this,” he added.
A spokesperson from Bay Fusion said: “This is very exciting and positive news for our nomination application.
“There is a long way to go in this process, however we are confident that Heysham and our district has all the pieces of the jigsaw that could make siting STEP in this area a real possibility.”
Fusion nuclear was described by Professor Stephen Hawking in 2010 as the one scientific advancement he would like to use to change society.