A site for STEP
We’re looking for a community to host our prototype and come with us on the exciting journey towards making fusion a reality in the UK.
On this page you’ll find all the information you need about the things we’ll be looking for in a host community.
What will we look for in a site for STEP?
With the plant still in the design phase, it’s not possible to be too precise about exactly what buildings and facilities we’ll develop on site. We’ll evolve our design over the next decade and want our host community to come with us on that journey.
We are also clear that a full consenting and planning process will be undertaken before the site is developed, so there are lots of opportunities for the community and other stakeholders to influence and shape the detail of the site going forward.
The STEP prototype will generate net energy but is not intended to operate as a commercial power station. This means it will not permanently generate power to the grid.
However, it will need a strong grid connection to retain the option of putting the power we generate into the system, and to ensure its inward power needs. The detail of grid requirement will be further developed in the latter half of this decade, and naturally any changes or improvements to the grid would be subject to national grid consenting processes.
The fusion machine
A significant access route and work hall will be required either above or below the centre of the device. The building could be in excess of 50 metres top-to-bottom – roughly equivalent to Nelson’s Column – and we currently expect some proportion of this to be underground, dependent on design.
STEP is an infrastructure programme and will be bound by the usual planning and environmental standards. We’re also committed to minimising environmental harm, as we develop a project we believe is in the interests of global environmental responsibility. A range of criteria will be applied during site selection to ensure we are not impacting on sites of specific environmental, archaeological or wider importance.
We do not yet know the exact size of the plant, as it is still in the early design phases. We expect it to be smaller than ITER (the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor being built by the international fusion community in the south of France) as the design is different.
However, STEP will need full power station infrastructure, and it’s important we retain the option to develop associated and additional sustainable and low-carbon technology plant around it (subject to appropriate planning permissions). For this reason, we’ve set a fairly high benchmark for space to ensure we can move forward with confidence that our site is appropriate for a full range of options.
The fusion plant itself is only useful if the low-carbon power it generates can be put to good use.
Our basis of design is to work towards a fusion plant which could power a turbine to produce electricity. Turbine halls are well understood and the STEP prototype reactor would have similar requirements to any other power station.
There are a range of other environmentally beneficial ways fusion heat could be used including hydrogen production, desalination, district heating and more. It’s possible that UKAEA may choose to develop these technologies on site too. These buildings are not expected to differ greatly in scale and appearance from the fusion plant and turbine facilities.
People, location and transport
STEP will require a significant and capable workforce and will also need strong site access links from road, rail and sea. However, space to operate and a lack of physical constraints on and around the site will also be important.
For this reason, we are likely to seek a site which is not adjacent to areas of dense population and infrastructure, nor a site which is entirely remote or devoid of transport links.
Fusion power plants, in common with all thermal power stations, require cooling. While the cooling approach for STEP is not finalised, it is extremely likely that water will play some meaningful part in that process. Indeed, UKAEA may opt for a water-cooled design. This would see an approach very similar to existing power station cooling – with water drawn in from a major water source, circulated through a sealed loop in the plant with some evaporated away, and the majority released back to the water source at a slightly warmer temperature.
Given the need to retain flexibility in our design, we have established a high benchmark for access to cooling water – with sea, estuary, or very major river access a requirement.
A range of buildings will be required to operate STEP, as well as to run the low-carbon energy research programmes which will be based on its outputs. These buildings will be very similar to any power station control-system and office accommodations.
Some internal components of the plant are exposed to radiation and require appropriate management when they are replaced during maintenance. The exact quantity of this material will be detailed as the plant is designed, and the management arrangements will be governed by regulation. It is the responsible view of UKAEA however that we should plan for an on-site store for these materials in the interim.
Working in partnership
Of course, site requirements are just one part of the picture – we want to make sure communities understand the benefits of working in partnership with us on this exciting programme. Only by working together will we successfully realise the huge potential of fusion as a means of sustainable energy production.
We want to work hand in hand with local authorities, academia and business groups to deliver a programme that will provide transformational benefits.
It’s really important that we work in collaboration to take the programme forward and develop the regional economy around it.
STEP is a publicly funded programme and we are committed to delivering a full range of social benefits.
We’re looking for communities with a clear, ambitious and achievable vision for growth related to energy and research and development and, in this way, we’ll deliver not only a clean energy future but also a lasting and significant boost to our host community.
Working with landowners
We want to work together with the landowner to move the programme forward. This could include the sale or lease of land currently in the private or public sector.
Details on our minimum land requirements can be found in our downloadable nomination form.
Finding a way forward
For the programme to move forward, we need to know that the community nominating itself is able to bring the various parties and stakeholders together to work in partnership with UKAEA, and successfully enable development and construction.
Regulation and safety
Fusion is a great technology for the future, both of our planet and our economy. It brings an innovative solution to producing large amounts of low carbon energy.
The fusion process is inherently safe – our challenge is in creating and maintaining a plasma. Any change in the tokamak environment will cause the plasma to stop immediately.
All energy production processes produce waste and, in fusion, it’s helium and neutrons. The neutrons interact with the steel within the tokamak structures, causing them to become radioactive. This radioactivity is relatively short-lived, with the majority being classified as low-level waste (or even non-active) within 100 years.
At this early stage of development, we are working to maximise the recycling and re-use of materials and only use disposal routes where there is no other option. In addition, we are working with novel materials and waste processing technologies to reduce the amount and overall activation of materials.
The regulatory regime for fusion power stations is still in development. STEP will, of course, be operated in line with all relevant regulations with a safe, sustainable and environmentally responsible approach at the heart of all we do.