UK politico proposes site for prototype nuclear fusion plant
British minister famed for love of imperial measures picks a spot in center of industrial decline
UK business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg has proposed building the UK’s first nuclear fusion power plant in a center of industrial decline.
His government has selected the site of West Burton power station in Nottinghamshire to house Britain's first Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) prototype fusion energy plant, to be complete in about 17 years.
The UK government is providing £220 million (c $250 million) in funding for the first phase of STEP, which will see the UK Atomic Energy Authority produce a concept design by 2024. It promises to create thousands of highly skilled jobs during construction and operations, as well as attracting other high-tech industries to the region.
North Nottinghamshire, where the site is due to be built, and neighboring south Yorkshire have been the site of industrial decline in the UK since the majority of steel making and coal mining in the region ended in the 1980s and 1990s.
Rees-Mogg, notorious among UK politicians for antiquated attire and espousal of traditional values, made the announcements at the ruling party's annual conference in Birmingham.
"Over the decades we have established ourselves as pioneers in fusion science and as a country our capabilities to surmount these obstacles is unparalleled, and I am delighted to make an announcement of a vital step in that mission," he said.
The plant would prove the commercial viability of fusion energy to the world, he claimed. Conversations with local providers and employers have already begun, with schemes to start as soon as possible, he said.
The STEP prototype will be a compact spherical tokamak, which confines plasma gas in a tight magnetic field and will use a deuterium-tritium fuel mix. It will also have many of the features of a fully operational power station, including the necessary infrastructure, and showcase how a fusion power station will be operated and maintained.
If the plans go ahead, it will be connected to the UK's National Grid and will produce net energy, although it is not expected to be a commercially operating plant.
Rees-Mogg is the government minister behind a consultation on expanding the use of imperial measure in the UK so we might assume the measure the fusion units' output in horsepower, the product of the force in pounds and the distance in feet, divided by the time in minutes.
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The project may be in line with new UK prime minister Liz Truss's ambition to be a "disrupter" in the UK economy, but the possibility of a commercially viable fusion plant is still in question.
Earlier this year, Dame Sue Ion, former chair of the UK Nuclear Innovation Research Advisory Board, told MPs that the combination of engineering and economics made it difficult to have total confidence in fusion as a viable energy source.
"I think there's a difference between confidence that it will work and confidence that it will work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and satisfy an economic environment in which it's got to live. And my answer to that is, I honestly don't know," she told MPs. ®