A plan to bring a prototype fusion energy plant to Scotland’s central belt, supported by the University of Glasgow, has cleared the latest stage of consideration by the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA).

The UKAEA announced today that one of the three University-backed bids to base the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) programme in Scotland has made it through the second round of official consideration, joining a shortlist of five potential sites. 

The plan to base STEP on the Ardeer peninsula in North Ayrshire, involving the participation and support of North Ayrshire Council and NPL Group, was selected by the UKAEA.

Researchers from the University of Glasgow helped co-ordinate the initial bids with local authorities and landowners.

The University also lent its support to bids for East Airdrie in North Lanarkshire, in affiliation with North Lanarkshire Council, and Poniel in  South Lanarkshire, involving South Lanarkshire Council and Hargreaves Land Limited. Those bids narrowly missed out on making it to the next round of assessment.

The three sites were part of a longlist of 15 nominations from across the country picked for consideration by the UKAEA in June after a first phase of assessment. The second assessment round comprised a detailed technical review against individual criteria, a senior management review of this process, and strategic consideration by the Authority’s Executive Leadership panel.

Declan Diver, Professor of Plasma Physics at the University of Glasgow’s School of Physics and Astronomy, helped to lead the co-ordination of the applications. Bernard McLaughlin, the University’s Programme Director, Glasgow Riverside Innovation District, also played a leading role in co-ordinating the bids.

Professor Diver said: “We’re pleased that one of the plans to bring STEP to Scotland which we supported have been successful in this next stage of assessment by the UKAEA.  

“All three sites were potentially viable but it’s inevitable that the shortlist will narrow as the UKAEA’s considerations become more specific and bids are eliminated.

“Ultimately, wherever STEP is based, it will represent a valuable step towards a net-zero future and offer a wealth of new research, education, commercial and industrial opportunities for the UK.

“We’re looking forward to the next stage of the consideration process, and continuing to work with local authorities and landowners as required.”

STEP, supported by an initial £222m in funding from the UK government, aims to design and construct a prototype fusion energy plant capable of providing an environmentally-friendly source of electricity. The programme is targeting a concept design by 2024, with operations planned to begin around 2040.

Lessons learned during the construction and initial operation of STEP will enable the future development of a fleet of commercial fusion plants.

Each site covers around 100 hectares, with convenient access to local infrastructure. UKAEA expects the final STEP site to be a significant new source of local employment, skills development, research, education and training for the local area in the coming decades.

Further decisions on the future STEP site will be made over the coming months. Once the assessment process is complete, UKAEA will make recommendations to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy who will make a final decision on the site around the end of 2022.