Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production
STEP is a UKAEA programme that will demonstrate the ability to generate net electricity from fusion. It will also determine how the plant will be maintained through its operational life and prove the potential for the plant to produce its own fuel.
The first phase of the programme is to produce a concept design by 2024. It will be a spherical tokamak, connected to the National Grid and producing net energy, although it is not expected to be a commercially operating plant at this stage.
The STEP prototype will
be a compact spherical tokamak
The plant is expected to be smaller than other fusion energy programmes, such as the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). This could help reduce costs and the plant’s physical footprint.
Most fusion reactors are built in the shape of a ring doughnut while the spherical plant is shaped more like a cored apple. This shape improves efficiency in the magnetic field and potentially reduces the plant’s cost.
The tokamak uses powerful magnetic fields to confine and control the hot plasma of fusion fuels in a container called a ‘torus’.
Fusion could provide a virtually limitless source of low carbon energy
Fusion has the potential to provide a near-limitless source of low carbon energy by copying the processes that power the sun and stars where atoms are fused to release energy.
Fusion power creates nearly four million times more energy for every kilogram of fuel than burning coal, oil or gas.
What are the different phases of the STEP programme?
The aim for this first phase of work is to produce a ‘concept design’ by 2024. This means an outline of the power plant, with a clear view on how we will design each of the major systems.
Through phase 2 the design will be developed through detailed engineering design, while all consents and permissions to build the plant will be sought.
Construction of the prototype power plant will begin in phase 3, targeting completion around 2040.
footprint of STEP
STEP is likely to be a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) which means it will be consented under a Development Consent Order (DCO). STEP will be a world-leading fusion programme, bringing visibility to its host community on a global stage.
To successfully construct and operate the STEP prototype plant, there will be a need for a wide range of skills and experience, much of which will be sourced from the local area. This will range from apprentices, through degree and graduate skills, to experienced professionals.
STEP will include much of the infrastructure and facilities seen on any operational power station. It is likely to be a delivery project of comparable scale and value to a major operational power station.
We will need people with a wide range of skills, from science and engineering to construction and catering in different phases of the programme.