Goole has emerged as one of five sites shortlisted to host the UK’s first nuclear fusion power station.
The government is aiming to become the first country to commercialise the energy source, a move that could create thousands of jobs and play a crucial part in the nation’s net zero ambition.
Its Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (Step) project is the first stage in that bid.
According to the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) fusion has the potential to provide a source of low-carbon energy that creates nearly four million times more energy for every kilogram of fuel than burning coal, oil or gas.
It could also serve as a magnet for high-tech industries, furthering the development of science and technology capabilities.
Some £220m has been invested into finding an appropriate site for the project, which UKAEA is hoping could be operational by 2040.
A total of 15 locations were long-listed following an open call between December 2020 and March 2021.
Goole, in close proximity to major power generation and energy intensive industries – including two huge glass plants – is joined by Ardeer in North Ayrshire; Moorside in Cumbria; Ratcliffe-on-Soar in Nottinghamshire and Severn Edge in Gloucestershire. The East Yorkshire town also sits close to a proposed hydrogen and carbon network, with a huge focus on decarbonisation already in the Humber region.
The bid is supported by a partnership of northern universities led by York, for a site close to Junction 36 of the M62.
Cllr Jonathan Owen, leader of East Riding of Yorkshire Council, said: “We recognise the potential long-term and enduring economic benefits it could bring to the East Riding and wider Yorkshire region, and also the national benefits.
“Without doubt, Step will be a project at the forefront internationally of the clean energy revolution, which would bring visibility to our community on a global scale. It will create wonderful opportunities for growth across the UK, with jobs at all levels created in the region, and the programme will undoubtedly focus on skills development which is something we always nurture as a council.
“These skills will mostly be in science, technology, engineering and maths, although there will be opportunities across a wide range of roles and skills. We know that UKAEA has already provided resources to support an apprentice training scheme in the local area and will work with local education and training providers such as the Universities of York and Sheffield at the earliest opportunity. We are pleased to be able to support this bid and now look forward to progressing to the next phase.”
Resources to support apprentice training have already been provided, with work ongoing with local education and training providers, as well as the higher education partners.
Professor Howard Wilson from the Department of Physics at the University of York was the first director of the Step project, while on secondment to UKAEA.
Returning to the region in May last year, he supported East Riding as a technical advisor on the bid. The university will now provide further technical expertise on the project.
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He said: “Step is an incredibly exciting project, aiming to demonstrate the commercial viability of fusion energy as a valuable contribution to mitigate climate change.
“If our bid is successful, it will place Goole and the wider Yorkshire region at the international heart of sustainable energy, attracting a huge range of industries and organisations to generate jobs across many sectors and driving skills growth in the region.”
Step programme director Paul Methven said the UKAEA would work with each site and their local communities to gain a more in-depth understanding of the socio-economic, commercial and technical conditions of each bid.
The UKAEA will then make a final recommendation to Business and Energy Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, with the successful site to be announced in late 2022.
Mr Methven said: “The shortlisting of sites is a significant step for the programme as it helps bring this challenging, long-term endeavour to life in the here and now.
“It also increases our focus as we push on with the design and delivery of what we hope is the world’s first fusion power plant prototype.”
The process involves a combination of hydrogen gases – deuterium and tritium – being heated to very high temperatures – over 100 million degrees Celsius. The gas becomes a plasma and the nuclei combine to form a helium nucleus and a neutron, with a tiny fraction of the mass converted into ‘fusion’ energy. A plasma with millions of these reactions every second can provide a huge amount of energy from very small amounts of fuel.
The intensity is controlled by powerful magnets, with the most advanced device the ‘tokamak’, a Russian word for a ring-shaped magnetic chamber.
George Freeman, minister for science, research and innovation 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.”
“By building the foundations to unlock the power of fusion energy, including the location of the UK’s first prototype fusion power plant, we are positioning the UK as a global leader in this safe and sustainable power source.”