UofG lends support to STEP towards UK fusion energy

Published: 11 June 2021

The University of Glasgow is lending its support to a trio of bids to bring a prototype fusion energy plant to Scotland.

The University of Glasgow is lending its support to a trio of bids to bring a prototype fusion energy plant to Scotland.
The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) announced today that three University of Glasgow-backed plans to base the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) programme at locations across Scotland’s central belt have passed the initial stage of consideration.
The bids, organised by the University in affiliation with local authorities and landowners, are among 15 applications the UKAEA are considering as part of its plans to base the prototype of a new, commercially-viable fusion reactor in the UK.An artist's impression of how the STEP reactor might look once construction is complete, with a cutaway section to show a reaction underway
STEP, supported by £222m 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 around 2040.
Lessons learned during the construction and initial operation of STEP will enable the future development of a fleet of commercial fusion plants.
The three STEP sites proposed by the University of Glasgow, local authorities and landowners are located at:

  • Ardeer peninsula, North Ayrshire The bid involved the participation and support of North Ayrshire Council and NPL Group
  • East Airdrie, North Lanarkshire The bid process has been supported by Albert Bartlett in affiliation with North Lanarkshire Council
  • Poniel, South Lanarkshire The bid involved South Lanarkshire Council and Hargreaves Land Limited 

Each site covers around 100 hectares, with convenient access to local infrastructure. UKAEA expects the final STEP site to be a significant new source of local employment, skills development, research, education and training for the local area in the coming decades.
Declan Diver, Professor of Plasma Physics at the University of Glasgow’s School of Physics and Astronomy, helped to lead the co-ordination of the applications. Bernard McLaughlin, the University’s Programme Director, Glasgow Riverside Innovation District, also played a leading role in co-ordinating the bids.
Professor Diver said: “Tokamaks have a great deal of potential to offer the world a remarkable source of zero-carbon energy, which could help deliver the scale of change that nations will require to meet their net-zero targets in the coming decades.
“The University of Glasgow has been working at the leading edge of advanced plasma physics since the middle of the 20th century, so I was pleased to be a part of developing the initial bids for these three very promising sites. A successful bid to base STEP in the central belt of Scotland would provide a wealth of research, training and education possibilities for the local university and college sectors, in addition to the many other economic and social benefits.
“I’m looking forward to continuing to work with UKAEA, local authorities and landowners in the coming months ahead of the final siting decision. I’m excited about the prospect of future fusion energy breakthroughs being made here in the UK.”
Further decisions on the future STEP site will be made over the coming months. Once the assessment process is complete, UKAEA will make recommendations to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy who will make a final decision on the site around the end of 2022.

First published: 11 June 2021

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