Hunt for industry partners begins as UK seeks to build prototype nuclear fusion plant

Article by Adam Duckett

The plant will be built on the site of a former coal-fired power plant in Nottinghamshire

A COMPETITION is being launched later this month to find the industry partners that will build the UK’s prototype nuclear fusion energy plant.

Known as STEP – or Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production – the plant will be built in West Burton, Nottinghamshire, on the site of a former coal-fired power plant. The UK is on the hunt for two industry partners – one in engineering and one in construction – to join forces with Industrial Fusion Solutions, run by the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA). Together they will build a plant to demonstrate fusion energy, aiming to generate power for the National Grid during the 2040s.

The competition will open for entries on 22 May with contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds given to the successful industry partners in late 2025 or early 2026. In a release announcing the competition, the government said it expects the STEP programme will create thousands of highly skilled jobs during construction and operations, as well as attracting other high-tech industries to the Midlands region.

Following the appointment of industry partners, it predicts a vast range of supply chain opportunities will open up as the STEP programme paves the way for the commercialisation of fusion and the potential development of plants around the world.

Paul Methven, CEO, UK Industrial Fusion Solutions, said: “Our industrial model will combine the best of public and private sectors in an integrated alliance to drive economic and industrial opportunities for the UK on a significant scale.”

An artist's impression of the STEP tokamak fusion reactor. Credit: UKAEA

Chemical engineers at the UKAEA have been integral to the concept design of STEP, including its fuel cycle, thermal power transfer, and power generation. In a series of articles published last year, engineers working on the project explained how they are helping push the technology forward.

Andrew Bowie, UK minister for nuclear and renewables, said: “Fusion could provide a near limitless source of energy and the UK is leading the way in trying to harness this power and deliver long-term energy independence.”

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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