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Nuclear fusion project to be built on site of one of Britain’s last coal-fired power plants

Jacob rees-mogg tory party conference - Anadolu Agency
Jacob rees-mogg tory party conference - Anadolu Agency

A prototype nuclear fusion power station will be built at the site of one of the UK’s last coal-burning stations, Jacob Rees-Mogg has announced.

In a speech to the Tory party conference, the Business Secretary said the pioneering facility in Nottinghamshire will be “a beacon of bountiful, green energy” and prove the technology’s commercial viability.

Mr Rees-Mogg claimed the power plant could be contributing to the grid by 2040, despite the fact that the promise of domestic nuclear fusion remains largely theoretical.

Nuclear fusion - the same reaction that occurs in the sun - is seen by scientists as the “Holy Grail” of energy production, offering a potentially limitless source of power.

But it is extremely difficult to achieve, owing to a requirement for searing temperatures and crushing pressure. Progress towards a working power plant has been slow.

Mr Rees-Mogg admitted that the “great hope” of commercial fusion was currently blocked by “big” technological obstacles but said the new facility would be a “potential ace up our sleeve” in efforts to cut carbon emissions. He said Britain had the “unparalleled” expertise needed to make commercial fusion a reality.

The UK Atomic Energy Authority will build the new Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) project at the current site of West Burton A, a coal-fired power plant that is due to close in April.

The Government hopes STEP will aim to provide power to the grid by 2040.

Mr Rees-Mogg said: “We have established ourselves as pioneers in fusion science and as a country our capability to surmount these obstacles is unparalleled.

“We will build the UK's first prototype fusion energy plant in Nottinghamshire, replacing the West Burton coal-fired power station with a beacon of bountiful green energy.

“The plant will be the first of its kind, built by 2040 and capable of putting energy on the grid. And in doing so it will prove the commercial viability of fusion energy to the world.”

He added that the plant would create thousands of highly-skilled jobs and could be worth billions of pounds to the economy, with fusion itself potentially worth “trillions” if Britain became a world-leading exporter of the technology.

Scientists have been trying to develop nuclear fusion for decades and the quest has taken on extra urgency in the push to cut carbon emissions.

The process - the opposite of the nuclear fission used at existing nuclear power plants - involves fusing two atoms at very high temperatures, which then release huge amounts of energy.

But creating the necessary conditions for the process - including extreme temperatures of 100 million degrees Celsius and high pressure - is extremely difficult.

First Light, a company spun out of the University of Oxford, achieved fusion earlier this year in an experiment it believes is replicable. It drew praise from then Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng who said it " could potentially revolutionise power production in the coming decades."

The West Burton A site was chosen for STEP from a shortlist of locations that bid to host the project.

It is part of the so-called “megawatt valley” in the lower part of Trent Valley, once named for its string of coal-fired power plants.

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, hailed the scheme as a "huge moment for fusion energy in the UK".

He said: "As we look to move away from fossil fuels towards net zero, it is important that we find new ways of meeting our growing energy demands.

"Fusion offers the opportunity to produce virtually limitless energy that will power low-carbon economies across the world.

"The UK can play a central role in making that a reality.”