A bid to build a fusion energy plant in Berkeley and Oldbury is now one step closer to reality.
The government today announced that the Severn Edge nomination to develop the UK’s first prototype plant is one of five sites through to the next phase of the national selection process.
If successful, the Severn Edge nomination could be given the go-ahead by the Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy by the end of next year.
Today’s decision on the selection process could pave the way for the fusion plant, along with an associated ecology of research and development facilities, businesses and training facilities, to be created at Oldbury and Berkeley.
The prototype plant could lead to thousands of jobs being created and regenerate the two former nuclear power sites, which could otherwise lie dormant for years.
A fusion plant works by heating atoms to ten times the temperature of the sun, forming a plasma in which the atoms smash together to produce heavier atoms.
This releases a huge amount of energy which is converted to power a turbine and generate electricity.
Fusion is different from fission, which is used in traditional nuclear power stations where atoms are split apart to release energy.
Severn Edge is the site where the STEP programme – Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production – could be built to support the UK’s transformation to a low carbon economy. It is targeting operations around 2040.
Katherine Bennett, chair of the Western Gateway partnership, said: “It’s fantastic to see the government honouring the commitments to prioritise the hosting of a STEP fusion site on merit.
“We truly believe that the Western Gateway geography offers an unrivalled breadth of skills, supply chain and technology to deliver this pioneering approach to renewable energy.
“I am very excited about the next phase of work with UKAEA, as we continue the assessment process and work together towards a hugely significant piece of infrastructure for the region and for the UK.”
Andy Bates, of Nuclear South West, the industry body powered by Business West, said: “We believe that our Severn Edge nomination is very strong scientifically and technically.
“We have an incredible scientific and engineering base here, with high temperature expertise being a particular strength. We are also one of the leading regions in digital and digital design, which will be crucial to the success of STEP.”
The Severn Edge team believe that the site’s proximity to the Culham Centre for Fusion Technology in Oxfordshire will be an added advantage in the final selection process.
“Culham is just 60 miles away and is the beating heart of fusion technology in the UK”, said Andy Bates, ”and we see Severn Edge as the lungs in that fusion body. These are very exciting times for this region.”
Professor Tom Scott, one of the Severn Edge nomination team and co-director of the South West Nuclear Hub at the University of Bristol, said: “The region has a vibrant supply chain and base for building nuclear reactors as well as all the leftover expertise in high temperature materials. So, we have the site and the skilled people to deliver this fantastic world-leading project that will ‘Level Up’ for the South West and wider geography in terms of jobs and prosperity.”
Writing in the government’s new Fusion Strategy, George Freeman, MP, Under Secretary of State, Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, says: “Fusion could be the ultimate clean power solution, representing a low carbon, safe, continuous and sustainable source of energy. This is not science fiction but science fact.”
Stroud MP Siobhan Baillie said: “I am thrilled Severn Edge Fusion bid has made onto the final shortlist.
“It shows that our proposals are viable and I would like to thank everyone who has been involved so far. They should all be proud of the work that has got the area to this stage.
“The potential for Stroud, Gloucestershire and the wider south west region in terms of investment, jobs and training is absolutely huge if we win.
“The potential for our net zero carbon emissions is equally as important if we can harness this power source with the world’s first fusion power plant.
“As Berkeley Green is firmly in the plans I am enjoying working with the Severn Edge team and I will work tirelessly to make the case for the nuclear fusion energy plant to be here in Gloucestershire.”
The leaders of Stroud District Council, South Gloucestershire Council and Gloucestershire County Council also expressed their support for the project.