Opportunity missed

North Ayrshire fusion bid loses out to Midlands

The Ardeer fusion plant is not to be

A Scottish bid for a pioneering nuclear fusion reactor has lost out to a rival proposal from the English Midlands.

The consortium behind the plan for the North Ayrshire plant had hoped the plant would form the centrepiece of a wider regeneration of the Ardeer area.

But the UK government awarded the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production, or STEP, to West Burton in Nottinghamshire.

Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg announced the government’s choice in a speech at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham.

The government had pledged more than £220m for the STEP programme, led by the UKAEA. The reactor should be operational by the early 2040s and will replace a coal-fired power station – owned by French energy giant EDF – which is due for closure this year.

The Fusion Forward (Ardeer) consortium, which was formed by the University of Glasgow, North Ayrshire Council and NPL Group, was one of five finalists in consideration to host STEP, and the only Scottish site remaining from an initial cohort of 15 applications from across the UK. 

With STEP expected to directly bring more than 4,500 jobs to Ardeer and hundreds of millions of pounds of investment, the bid drew widespread support from across Scottish businesses, as well as local communities. Local people and business owners wrote more than 1,000 letters to express their support for STEP. 

Organisations including Scottish Enterprise, Skills Development Scotland, the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Scottish Trades Union Congress also expressed their support for STEP to be based at Ardeer.

Professor Declan Diver, of the University of Glasgow’s School of Physics and Astronomy and the convenor of the Fusion Forward (Ardeer) consortium, said: “While I’m disappointed that our bid to bring STEP to North Ayrshire was unsuccessful, I’m pleased that the UK is set to make fusion a viable source of zero-carbon power.

“Over the course of the last 18 months, we’ve done a great deal of work to win the backing of the business, education and skills sectors across Scotland.

“In doing so, we’ve created a framework for collaboration that could easily be used to support future bids to bring large-scale infrastructure and investment projects to Ardeer.

“There’s also the possibility that STEP-related opportunities could come to the region between now and 2040, when the plant is expected to start generating power.”

North Ayrshire Council leader Marie Burns said: “While it is clear there will be disappointment for many that Ardeer won’t be home to the fusion plant, there is still much to be positive about.

“We have shown what is possible for a unique location like Ardeer and we know that it remains a prime site ready for the right development.

“The experience we have gained working with partners on this project puts us in a strong position for commercial development and very attractive to prospective investors and employers.”

Arran Cameron, development director at NPL Group, said it was ‘disheartening news” but the relationships forged in the bid process will continue to promote and attract positive economic development to Scotland’s largest brownfield industrial site.

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