‘Huge economic benefits’ if region wins race for fusion power plant in Goole

A site near Junction 36, just north of the M62 in Goole, was shortlisted last October by the UK Atomic Energy Authority alongside four others – North Ayrshire; Moorside, Cumbria; Ratcliffe-on-Soar, Nottinghamshire and Severn Edge, Gloucestershire.

Later this year, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is expected to make the final decision on bids, including that of the East Riding Council, which has backing from businesses and universities run by York University .

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The process involves the fusion of light atoms, hydrogen, and is the opposite of fission, the breaking down of heavy atoms, such as uranium. This releases energy which is then converted into heat to drive turbines, producing electricity.

Artist’s impression of what the STEP building might look like Source: UKAEA

The UKAEA has initial government funding of £222m to produce a concept and choose a site by 2024.

The chosen site will host the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) program whose objective will be to “demonstrate that electricity can be produced in a predictable and stable manner in a fusion power plant”. It is considered an inherently safe technology, but produces low-level, short-lived radioactive waste.

An economic report by Dr Mark Graham, University of Edinburgh, quantified the huge economic benefits the plant could bring in terms of construction costs, investment, training and jobs.

It describes how hundreds of jobs would be created in the early phases of development in the mid-2020s, rising to between 2,600 and 8,600 positions in the third phase of the 2030s.

Landing off Junction 36 in Goole has been named as a potential host for the fusion power plant

There are already around 18,000 manufacturing jobs in the East Riding and Dr Graham concludes that the area could meet many of the needs of the third and final phase of the project.

With more than 160,000 science, research, engineering and technology professionals based within an 80km radius of Goole, he says the region is particularly well served to meet R&D opportunities.

The council’s technical adviser, Professor Howard Wilson, from the University of York, said it would create huge opportunities for young people in the area, including those in primary school. He said: “A lot of it will be new high-level jobs – the merger touches on such a diverse range of technologies. Wherever STEP ends up, it will not be STEP itself but the other adjacent sectors it brings to the region (from robotics to plant fuel – heavy hydrogen).

When the successful site is chosen, “one of the first things that will start will be the investment in the educational structure – it has to be,” he added.

Goole is one of five shortlisted sites in the UK Source: UKAEA

The report recommends the creation of a new university technical college to teach the skills needed by the sector. Goole does not currently offer post-16 education.

UKAEA chief executive Ian Chapman was among those who visited the Goole site. “They seemed really impressed. I think we are in a good position – we have a very strong supply,” Prof Wilson said.

As for the local reaction, concerns about the visual impact were raised at a community event, but he insists “when completed it will look more like a science park”.

Professor Wilson said China was probably the most advanced in developing fusion energy to meet the energy needs of the huge populations living in its megacities.