‘EXCITING’ plans are in motion to bring the UK’s first prototype nuclear fusion power plant to Cumbria.

Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership is looking for the ideal site in Cumbria to house the first prototype nuclear fusion facility.

When suitable locations are identified, plans for the power plant will then be submitted to the bidding process which is being held by the UK Atomic Energy Authority.

Nuclear fusion is believed to be the next generation of clean energy production.

Fusion was described by Professor Stephen Hawking in 2010 as the one scientific discovery or advance he would like to see in his lifetime that would transform society.

In October 2019, UK Government announced an initial £220 million of funding to produce a concept fusion reactor design known as the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) by 2024.

The selection process invites interested parties to bid to be the host location for the facility, which is expected to create 300 jobs directly, with even more in the UK fusion supply chain.

The STEP will act as the anchor for a much wider innovation and technology ‘park’ around the development site, including manufacturing, R&D and education opportunities.

A virtual launch event is taking place on Wednesday 16 December at 5pm at where interested parties, including local authorities and landowners can learn more about the process and its potential benefits.

Cumbria's bid will be lead by Dr Rebecca Weston, Chair of CLEP’s Clean Energy Sector Panel and Chief Operating Officer at Sellafield Ltd.

Deputy chairman of Copeland Borough Council David Moore welcomed the news and added that the borough is “the right place” for the groundbreaking technology.

"It's right that Cumbria LEP lead the Cumbria-wide bid. We expect to play a strong role in that because we have the advantage of a licensed nuclear site and the site adjacent to Sellafield."

It is hoped that the Moorside facility neighbouring Sellafield will become a Clean Energy Hub, providing that a long anticipated Government White Paper provides the right culture for investment.

Mr Moore hopes that the prototype nuclear fusion technology can factor in to the Moorside plans: "Sellafield was the home of commercial nuclear, if this exciting technology is going to take off, this is the right place for it to happen.

"We've got the real estate, we've got the skills, we've got all the right things to take this forward."

He added that it is an "exciting" opportunity for young people who are currently training in new nuclear skills.

Dr Rebecca Weston said: “Fusion offers an abundant source of cleaner electricity by replicating the processes that power the sun, basically the collision of hydrogen atoms to release large amounts of energy. The idea has been around a long time, but now the science and engineering is in a place, where global researchers are developing fusion reactors that provide the platform to create a commercial technology, with Government wanting the UK to be at the forefront of this.

“Here, in Cumbria, our heritage, experience and expertise in the nuclear field means we have an enormous amount to offer the developing programme – and indeed the STEP ambition can support our existing priorities.”

Jo Lappin, CLEP’s Chief Executive, added: “The STEP programme is an innovative and incredibly exciting opportunity to take clean energy production to the next level and Government wants the UK to be at the forefront of that process.

“Our outstanding heritage in this area means that we are exceptionally well placed to bid into the process. However, it’s important that we find the absolute best site, which the whole of Cumbria can get behind.

“Wednesday’s event represents a significant first step in the process and we encourage all interested parties to get involved.”

STEP is one of several clean energy development opportunities alongside offshore wind, small-scale community projects, emergent hydrogen developments and other new nuclear projects that could lead to Cumbria becoming a national centre of clean energy generation and a positive contributor towards our net zero ambition.

The Government’s deadline for submission of siting proposals is March 31, 2021, so CLEP has set a local deadline of Friday January 8 for potential host sites to come forward.

The UK STEP site will ultimately be selected by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy following a recommendation made by UKAEA.

This recommendation will be made following a rigorous assessment process.

More detailed information on the criteria and assessment process can be found on the STEP web portal.

The STEP prototype will have many of the features of a fully operational power station, including infrastructure and associated research and development facilities, and is likely to be a delivery project of comparable scale and value.