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Prototype plan

Experts check out Ayrshire for fusion energy plant

Possible location: Ardeer Peninsula

Scientists are in Ayrshire today to conduct a further assessment of its suitability to host a prototype fusion energy plant.

It is Scotland’s only shortlisted location and if successful it could create thousands of jobs.  Other potential sites East Airdrie, North Lanarkshire and Poniel, South Lanarkshire were ruled out.

Experts have arrived at the site on the Ardeer peninsula in North Ayrshire, which was last month named on the list of five UK locations in the running to host the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) plant.

The UK government has so far pledged £222 million to the project which was announced earlier this year.

However, Ayrshire not only as to overcome the four other competing areas, the Scottish government has been resolutely opposed to nuclear power.

While fusion is regarded as “clean” nuclear energy Scottish ministers have offered neither support nor opposition to the project.

Officials from the UK Atomic Energy Authority have paid a second visit to the Ardeer site to build their understanding of the site’s potential to host STEP as they make their final deliberations ahead of an announcement, expected in spring next year.

The bid for the North Ayrshire site is being led by the Fusion Forward (Ardeer) consortium, which represents NPL Group, which owns the land, North Ayrshire Council and the University of Glasgow.

STEP aims to design and construct a prototype fusion energy plant capable of providing an environmentally-friendly source of electricity.

The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) is hoping to have the plant operating in the early 2040s, with initial aims to produce a concept design by 2024. The proposal would be subject to regulatory assessments and public consultation through the relevant legislative procedures.

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Fusion energy is created by forcing atoms together in the same process by which the sun produces radiation, unlike a nuclear reactor, which relies on fission and breaking atoms apart to generate energy. It has the ability to produce one person’s energy needs for 60 years using just one bath of water.

Unlike conventional nuclear fission reactors, fusion reactors produce no potentially harmful waste during their reactions – instead, their only product aside from power is helium, a harmless inert gas.

Their design and production process are also inherently incapable of producing runaway chain reactions, making the kind of meltdowns that have happened in nuclear fission reactors impossible. 

Declan Diver, professor of Plasma Physics at the University of Glasgow’s School of Physics and Astronomy, helped to prepare the bid for STEP to be based at Ardeer.

He said: “I’m pleased to have been part of the group which welcomed our visitors from the UKAEA to the Ardeer site. STEP has the potential to bring a wide range of benefits to the central belt of Scotland, and as a plasma physicist myself I’m excited about the potential it has to deliver new opportunities in research, training and education.

“Coming so soon after COP26, it was also encouraging to see progress towards the kind of clean fusion energy generation that could help us achieve net-zero in the years to come.”

Joe Cullinane, leader of North Ayrshire Council, said: “We were pleased to help facilitate the visit which allowed officials from the UK Atomic Energy Authority to see for themselves the size, location, connections to transport networks, grid connectivity and access to skills and academic expertise which Ardeer has to offer.

“We look forward to welcoming them back to North Ayrshire soon for a further site visit as the deliberations continue.”



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