A major project to bring fusion energy to a decommissioned power station has been hailed as a ‘beacon’ for Nottinghamshire.
The region has been selected for the world’s first fusion energy power plant,which is expected to bring more than £20bn and up to 10,000 jobs to the area.
On 3 October, it was announced by the government that at West Burton near Retford has been chosen for the pioneering project ahead of 15 other shortlisted locations across the UK.
Fusion energy is the process which powers the sun and stars – and the new site could be built as soon as 2040, if scientists can finalise the rapidly-developing technology to replicate it and ultimately replace fossil fuel power stations.
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The project will replace the coal power station site known as ‘West Burton A’ which will cease operations next year, just as the STEP (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production) fusion project, led by the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) begins.
On 6 October, local MPs, councillors and the leaders behind the project met at the site in West Burton to discuss the project.
Rachael Glaving, who led the bid on behalf of EDF, which owns the power station, said: “We have been through a rollercoaster of emotions with this because we were on the longlist and we were incredibly excited about that.
“We didn’t make the shortlist and we were devastated, then to find out that Ratcliffe on Soar had dropped out and we had taken their place, we were amazed.
“We decided we didn’t just want to be in the top five to make up the numbers, if we were going to do it, we wanted to do it properly.
“That was the trigger to pull out all the stops and the rest is history.
“When you walk around the site now, everybody from the security guards to the people cutting the grass are smiling.
“This genuinely is a world first, this will put the area on the map globally as the home of the first real commercial fusion reactor project in the world.
“This place that used to be known as mega-watt valley will become a beacon now.”
The Nottinghamshire site was chosen ahead of 14 other sites ahead of locations in Yorkshire, Cumbria, Gloucestershire and North Ayrshire.
UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) will be responsible for all aspects of the development, planning, construction and operation of the facility.
Tris Denton, Head of Commercial and Programme Development, UKAEA, said: “One of the things that struck me about West Burton was the phenomenal level of community support, built so much on the huge industrial legacy of power generations right up and down the Trent.
“We want to build on that and transition from fossil to fusion in Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire.
“What I find so exciting is that it’s primary school age kids in Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire will probably be the first operators of this plant.
“They will be some of the first people in the world to generate clean, secure low-carbon energy from fusion. I find that phenomenally engaging.”
But he admitted that the project will be “incredibly difficult and technically challenging”.
He said: “We know fusion works on earth because we do it day in and day out at our site in Oxfordshire. What we want to show with STEP is we can do it in a commercially viable way.
“You can power homes and businesses, we can power kettles and factories. We believe we can do that.”
He added that first there will be construction and design projects, and the UKAEA already has an office on site.
The construction of the prototype plant is due to start in the early 2030s and become operational around 2040.
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Jo White, deputy leader of Bassetlaw District Council, is also a local resident who lives a five-minute drive from the site.
She said: “I look out my window and I see the chimneys so it has been part of my life.
“The thought of it going was sad, so the fact that it now has a future in producing energy is absolutely brilliant.
“This is not just a step change in terms of the project, but a step change for Bassetlaw.”
Cllr Ben Bradley, MP, Nottinghamshire County Council leader, said the “fossil to fusion” narrative was “poetry”.
He added: “We want to power the nation again and the opportunity here to be at the heart of this technology for the whole world is fantastic.
“Even if it doesn’t work, for the region, the jobs, the investment, the skills and opportunities it will bring for local people are amazing.”