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Of Interest

See archived entries

Wanted

A home for STEP

The UK government is calling out to UK regions and communities for proposals for siting the future prototype fusion plant STEP (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production).

STEP is a compact, spherical tokamak designed to demonstrate the commercial viability of fusion energy. The UK Atomic Energy Authority is aiming for the selection of a site by late 2022, a concept design by 2024, and completion of construction in 2040. (Click to view larger version...)
STEP is a compact, spherical tokamak designed to demonstrate the commercial viability of fusion energy. The UK Atomic Energy Authority is aiming for the selection of a site by late 2022, a concept design by 2024, and completion of construction in 2040.
STEP will have many of the features of a fully operational power station, including infrastructure and associated research and development facilities. It is likely to be a delivery project of comparable scale and value to a major operational power station, according to the website of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy.

In the press release issued by the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) on 2 December, UK Business and Energy Secretary Alok Sharma highlighted the advantages that the design, construction and operation of such a facility would represent to the winning community. "Communities around the country have an opportunity to secure their place in the history books as the home of STEP, helping the UK to be the first country in the world to commercialise fusion and creating thousands of highly skilled jobs to drive the UK Green Industrial Revolution."

In addition to the £222 million commitment made to the STEP program, the UK government has also promised to invest £184 million by 2025 in new fusion facilities, infrastructure and apprenticeships at the Culham science centre in Oxfordshire, home to the JET and MAST tokamaks.

The head of the ITER Science and Operation Domain, Tim Luce, welcomed the news. "It is gratifying to see the government make a firm commitment to continuing the historic leadership of the UK in magnetic fusion development. STEP is a third generation in the spherical tokamak approach to fusion pioneered at the Culham Laboratory. This approach is a close relative to the conventional tokamak realized in the JET facility at Culham and the ITER facility under construction in France. It promises lower capital cost for a power plant due to the lower magnetic field and compact size, but faces various engineering and physics challenges such as large stresses in the magnet structure, high heat fluxes to the wall, and difficulties with large enough tritium breeding for growing a fusion energy economy. Some of these issues are being addressed in the present generation of spherical tokamaks at Culham and Tokamak Energy in the UK and at Princeton University in the US. First plasma in the STEP facility in 2040 appears to be a realistic goal, assuming favourable and timely results in the present generation of spherical tokamaks."

Communities have until the end of March 2021 to submit their initial nominations, and the assessment will take approximately two years to complete.

Read the full press release here.

Read more about STEP here.



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