‘Huge economic benefits’ if region wins race for fusion energy plant at Goole

A prototype fusion energy plant could bring huge economic benefits to the region – including thousands of jobs and generating £1bn in gross value added, a report has concluded.

A site by junction 36, just to the north of the M62 at Goole, was shortlisted last October by the UK Atomic Energy Authority alongside four others – North Ayrshire; Moorside, Cumbria; Ratcliffe-on-Soar, Nottinghamshire and Severn Edge, Gloucestershire.

Later this year Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is expected to make the final decision on bids including that of East Riding Council, which has the support of businesses and universities led by the University of York.

The process involves the fusing of light atoms, hydrogen, and is the opposite of fission, the breaking apart of heavy atoms, like uranium. This releases energy which is then converted to heat to drive turbines, producing electricity.

Artist's impression of how the STEP building could look Source: UKAEA

The UKAEA has an initial £222m in government funds to produce a concept design and choose a site by 2024.

The chosen site will host the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) programme whose aim will be to “demonstrate that electricity can be predictably and stably produced in a fusion power station”. It is considered an inherently safe technology but produces low-level, short-lived radioactive waste.

An economic report by Dr Mark Graham, from the University of Edinburgh, quantified the huge economic benefits the plant could bring in construction costs, investment, training and jobs.

It outlines how hundreds of jobs would be created in the earlier development phases in the mid-2020s, ramping up to between 2,600 and 8,600 posts in the third phase in the 2030s.

Land off Junction 36 at Goole has been earmarked as a potential host for the fusion energy plant

There are already around 18,000 manufacturing jobs within the East Riding and Dr Graham concludes the region could serve many of the needs of the third and final phase of the project.

With over 160,000 science, research, engineering and technology professionals based within a 50-mile radius of Goole, he says the region is particularly well served to meet R&D opportunities.

The council’s technical advisor, Professor Howard Wilson, from the University of York, said it would create massive opportunities for the region’s young people – including those at primary school. He said: “A big fraction will be new high-level jobs – fusion touches on such a diverse range of technologies. Wherever STEP ends up, it won’t be STEP itself it will be the other adjacent sectors it brings into the region (from robotics to the plant’s fuel – heavy hydrogen).

“Wherever STEP ends up, it won’t only be STEP that brings benefits to the region, but also a range of adjacent sectors (from robotics to the plant’s fuel - heavy hydrogen)”

Goole is one of five shortlisted sites in the UK Source: UKAEA

When the successful site is chosen “one of the first things that will start will be investment in the educational structure – it has to”, he added.

The report recommends a new University Technical College is set up to teach the skills needed for the sector. Goole currently doesn’t offer post-16 education.

UKAEA’s chief executive officer Ian Chapman is among those to visit the Goole site. “They seemed genuinely impressed. I think we are in a good place – we have a very strong offering,” said Prof Wilson.

As for local reaction, concerns over visual impact were raised at a community event, but he insists “once finished it will look more like a science park”.

Prof Wilson said China was probably the most advanced in developing fusion power to answer the energy needs of the huge populations living in its mega-cities.