Ardeer’s Scottish bid for new nuclear fusion plant beaten by Nottinghamshire site

SCOTLAND lost the chance to host a ‘pioneer’ nuclear fusion plant as the project was awarded to a rival site south of the border.

A group involving the University of Glasgow and North Ayrshire Council had bid to house the spherical tokamak for power generation (Step) on the Ardeer Peninsula, near Stevenston, but lost out to a competitor at West Burton, Nottinghamshire.

This would have seen the project – which critics have called experimental technology – create around 4,500 jobs in North Ayrshire.

Making the announcement at the Conservative Party Conference yesterday, Energy Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said: ‘We are to build the UK’s first prototype fusion power plant in Nottinghamshire, replacing the West Burton coal-fired power station with a beacon of abundant green energy.”

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“The plant will be the first of its kind, built by 2040 and capable of putting power on the grid, and in doing so, it will prove the commercial viability of fusion power to the world.”

Energy Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, inset, says Ardeer lost the bid yesterdayA CGI of what the STEP Tokamak nuclear fusion power plant could look like (Image: UK Atomic Energy Authority)

Fusion Forward’s (Ardeer) bid reached the last five of the competition and was the only Scottish site considered in the final judging.

Organizations such as Scottish Enterprise, Skills Development Scotland, the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Scottish Trades Union Congress had expressed their support for Step’s setting up in Ayrshire.

Colleges and universities had also planned specialized training, from apprenticeships to doctorates, which would have served the site.

Could fusion still happen in Scotland?

But the leader of the Scottish bid, Professor Declan Diver of the University of Glasgow, has indicated he is not giving up hope that future nuclear fusion sites will be based in Scotland.

He said: “While I am disappointed that our bid to bring Step to North Ayrshire has failed, I am happy that the UK is on the verge of making fusion a viable source of carbon-free energy.

“Over the past 18 months we have done a lot of work to win support from the business, education and skills sectors across Scotland.

Energy Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, inset, says Ardeer lost the bid yesterdayJacob Rees-Mogg announced yesterday that Nottinghamshire will be home to the UK’s prototype fusion reactor

“In doing so, we have created a collaborative framework that could easily be used to support future bids to bring large-scale infrastructure and investment projects to Ardeer.

“It is also possible that Step-related opportunities will arise in the region by 2040, when the plant is expected to start generating electricity.

“Step’s skills and supply chain, administered by the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, could benefit from industry support in Scotland, not only for smelting, but also for the aerospace, defense and offshore renewable energy, helping to boost local economies.”

North Ayrshire Council leader Marie Burns said: “While it is clear that many will be disappointed that Ardeer is not home to the smelter, there is still much to be positive about.

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“We’ve shown what’s possible for a single site like Ardeer and we know there’s still a prime site ready for the right development.

“We will continue to seek innovation and investment opportunities across North Ayrshire, and this process has demonstrated that our region has much to offer as a desirable location for large-scale investment.

“The experience we have gained working with partners on this project puts us in a strong position for business development and very attractive to potential investors and employers.

“While the Step factory would have brought significant investment, employment and training opportunities to North Ayrshire and the West of Scotland, we will continue to explore different possibilities and opportunities for our region.

“It is important that we do not lose momentum and it is clear that national agencies such as Scottish Enterprise, Skills Development Scotland, the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, among others, want to usher in a new era of innovation. in our region. .

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“We will do all we can to ensure that North Ayrshire benefits from Step and the emerging fusion power industry in the UK, as part of large-scale supply chains and advanced manufacturing not only in this field, but also in other booming fields such as aerospace and offshore renewable energies. .”

What is nuclear fusion?

Fusion is the process that takes place inside the sun and creates energy by forcing atoms together. It remains experimental with scientists struggling to harness the clean energy created by the process, which is the opposite of nuclear fission, where atoms are ripped apart to create energy.

While others were appalled at the development, the Scottish Greens expressed skepticism about the merits of the scheme.

Mark Ruskell, the party’s energy spokesman, said the UK government should invest in renewables rather than nuclear fusion.

Ruskell added: “The climate emergency is happening all around us, we have no time to waste pouring billions of pounds of public money into unproven technology.

“Merger may have a role to play in the future, but there is a long way to go before it is known whether it is safe or viable. We cannot base our hopes of decarbonizing our economy on technology that is still years away.

“Nor can support for fusion technology undo the terrible damage caused by an energy policy based on fossil fuels and polluting energy sources of the past.”

“It may not have a direct impact on Scotland, but we all have a vested interest in UK governments taking effective climate action rather than wasting what little time we have left. .

“Many of the clean technologies that could make a real difference already exist. Instead, the UK government should focus on making the major investments we need in renewables and building an energy sector that works for people and the planet.