Ayrshire site shortlisted for UK fusion energy plant that could create thousands of jobs


Moves to bring a prototype fusion energy plant to North Ayrshire that would create thousands of jobs have taken a major step forward.

A site on the Ardeer peninsula has made a shortlist of five UK locations in the running to host the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) plant.

The other sites — from an original longlist of 15 — are Goole (East Riding of Yorkshire) Moorside (Cumbria); Ratcliffe-on-Soar (Nottinghamshire) and Severn Edge (South Gloucestershire & Gloucestershire).

STEP, supported by £222 million in funding from the UK Government, aims to design and construct a prototype fusion energy plant capable of providing an environmentally-friendly source of electricity.

The programme is targeting a concept design by 2024, with operations planned to begin in the early 2040s.

The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) expects the final STEP site to be a significant new source of local employment, skills development, research, education and training for decades.

It is expected to create thousands of highly-skilled jobs during construction and operations and attract other high-tech industries to its host region, furthering the development of science and technology capabilities locally and nationally.

North Ayrshire Council leader Joe Cullinane today welcomed the news saying it represented an exciting possibility for the region to be at the forefront of net carbon neutral innovation.

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He said: “Ardeer fulfils many of the site selection criteria set out by the UKAEA, including its size, location, connections to transport networks, grid connectivity and access to skills and academic expertise – all of which will have played their part in Ardeer successfully moving into this next phase.

Ardeer Peninsula
Ardeer Peninsula

“The UKAEA has indicated that it will begin the next phase of assessment over the coming months, leading to a recommendation to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy in 2022.

“North Ayrshire Council was approached by the University of Glasgow to support a bid to explore the potential for the development of a fusion power plant within the Ardeer peninsular earlier this year, which was also backed by landowners NPL Group.

“The next phase of the rigorous assessment process will consider the likely opportunities and risks associated with deploying STEP at each of the shortlisted sites and involve community engagement to explain the proposals and gather feedback on local priorities, aspirations and concerns.

“Such cutting-edge technology would bring substantial long-term economic benefits to our area, together with significant supply chain, innovation and educational possibilities.

“We will continue to work constructively with our partners in this process, ahead of the final siting decision and we maintain our commitment to keeping local community groups, organisations and stakeholders well informed as we move through this next stage.”

Paul Methven, STEP Programme Director at UKAEA, 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.

“Through the next phase of assessment, we look forward to working with the shortlisted sites and local communities to gain a more in-depth understanding of the socio-economic, commercial and technical conditions associated with each site, before we make our final recommendations to the Secretary of State in 2022.”

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