Decision on fusion reactor could be made within weeks as industry backs Oldbury bid

May 30 2022
Decision on fusion reactor could be made within weeks as industry backs Oldbury bid

A DECISION on whether to build a revolutionary nuclear fusion reactor near Thornbury could be made within weeks.

The team behind the Severn Edge bid to bring the £220 million project to create clean energy to Oldbury and Berkeley is waiting to see if its will be chosen by the government ahead of four other sites across Britain.

The Voice understands that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is expected to announce a decision on the site for the STEP (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production) programme within the coming weeks, having been given guidance by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, which will run the flagship programme.

Nuclear fusion is different to the fission process used in older reactors, like those which are being decommissioned at Oldbury and Berkeley.

Instead of splitting the atoms of radioactive elements like uranium, it involves combining hydrogen isotopes under conditions of extreme pressure and temperature to create energy, which is then converted to generate electricity via a turbine.

Fusion has been described as potentially the “ultimate low carbon energy” source – but the challenge facing scientists is to create a reaction that produces more power than it consumes.

The Severn Edge bid is the only one on the table which involves two nations – England and Wales – and has so far received support from 28 businesses and organisations. 

The Western Gateway partnership, the regional economic alliance which is leading the Severn Edge bid, has just announced backing from industry giants including Toshiba, Thales and Renishaw for its Severn Estuary site.

Toshiba Research Europe managing director Mahesh Sooriyabandara, Renishaw chief executive Will Lee and Thales director of cyber security and trust Tony Burton all voiced their “strong support” for bringing STEP to the area.

Tony said: "We passionately believe that bringing STEP to the Severn region will ensure it has the industrial and scientific capabilities, as well as the existing and future skills capacity it needs to be successful."

The industry backing follows support for the project from the universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter announced in April.

The GW4 Alliance, a research consortium which brings together these four universities, has written a public letter of support for plans to bring the UK’s first prototype fusion plant to the area.

They said the Severnside site would place the project at the “heart of an academic cluster with a unique breadth of skills and research capacity”, significantly increasing “the chances of successfully delivering STEP”. 

GW4 Alliance director Dr Jo Jenkinson said: “This proposal offers an unprecedented opportunity to engage with a wealth of energy research expertise, world class facilities and cutting-edge equipment across the four GW4 universities."

The Severn Edge bid also received what organisers described as a "fantastic response" from the 300 more than people who attended public events in the Thornbury area during February.

Western Gateway partnership chair Katherine Bennett said: “We know that the Western Gateway area offers the national STEP Programme the best possible access to the most advanced technical skills and expert supply chains, to ensure the UK is world-leading in developing this clean energy solution.

"STEP would mean billions of pounds worth of investment and is part of the work our partnership is doing to develop our area as a Green Energy Super Cluster driving the UK’s transition to Net Zero."

More information about the STEP bid is available on the website www.western-gateway.co.uk.