UK plans multibillion fusion power plant to tackle climate crisis as energy bills soar

Prototype research project aims to create cheaper energy for global distribution

Prince Charles visits the UK Atomic Energy Authority's centre in Culham, Oxfordshire, to see how fusion energy could play a vital role in addressing climate change. Getty Images
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The UK is pushing forward with plans to identify a site for a multibillion-pound fusion power plant to create affordable energy around the world.

It comes as the British government revealed households will face a £693 ($942) rise in typical energy bills when the price cap is raised in April.

The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) believes fusion energy could play a vital role in addressing climate change through a safe, sustainable and low-carbon future energy supply.

It has shortlisted five sites across the UK to create a multibillion-pound prototype fusion machine which could create fusion energy to be distributed across the globe.

The Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (Step) programme is seeking to pave the way for the development of commercial power plants, capable of supplying a limitless supply of low carbon, clean energy.

On Wednesday, scientists behind the project unveiled their plans to hundreds of people in Goole, East Yorkshire, which is one of the shortlisted communities.

Tristram Denton, head of commercial and programme development for Step, said the project is of global importance.

“Step is not just of strategic importance to UKAEA, but to the national and global efforts to harness fusion technology in the fight against climate change," he said.

"While it’s still early days, we anticipate that the host region will become a global hub for a wide range of technological and scientific expertise, leading to massive economic opportunities.

"We think that Step will be a key part in the UK and world’s efforts to decarbonise and we are incredibly excited to bring the project forward.

"My energy bills are going in the same direction as everyone else’s. This should bring forward an affordable source of energy for everyone. We are trying to develop a prototype to prove the technology and from the back of that, we would expect to see a whole fleet of fusion plants globally once the technology is proved to be operable.

"The whole world is going to get a source of energy which is potentially vital in fighting climate change and providing energy at an affordable price."

The site will be chosen by the end of the year, with construction taking place by 2030 and aims to be operational by 2040.

The project will create more than 1,000 jobs, 5 per cent of which will be apprenticeships.

Step strategic adviser, Leon Flexman, said the power station will be a prototype.

"The mission of Step is to deliver a UK prototype fusion energy plant by 2040 and the path to commercially viable fusion," he said.

"It will not be operating as a power station. It is really there as a stepping stone between the experimental fusion that we have now and the commercial operating plants that we hope to roll out across the UK and the globe.

Prince Charles meets employees at the Joint European Torus control room during a visit to the UK Atomic Energy Authority. Getty Images

"We know that we can run fusion machines safely and that we can generate energy from them but we want to prove that this can be done on a basis that could be a power industry, not just an experiment.

"The goal is to generate more power than we put in."

Mr Denton said the project will form part of the UK's net zero plans.

“The UK government is committed to net zero by 2050 and fusion is one part of the long-term solution, alongside a continued increase in energy from renewable sources like wind and solar power," he said.

"The recent Cop26 climate conference highlighted the need to push harder and faster and Step takes us ever closer to making fusion a reality.”

On Monday, Prince Charles visited UKAEA's Joint European Torus machine in Culham, which is the largest and most powerful operating tokamak machine in the world.

The machine creates fusion energy by recreating the same type of nuclear reaction that powers the Sun.

Updated: February 04, 2022, 3:33 AM
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