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Government fusion energy decision 'not the end of the road' for Severn Edge, say backers

5 October 2022
The Business Magazine article image for: Government fusion energy decision 'not the end of the road' for Severn Edge, say backers

Leaders of the Western Gateway Partnership bid to bring the UK’s fusion energy STEP programme to Severn Edge say this is “not the end of the road” for the site as the government announce the UK’s first fusion plant will be built in Nottinghamshire.

The Severn Edge bid received support from the wider South West region, industry, four of the most research-intensive universities in the UK, businesses, political leaders and the local community.

During the process the profile of both Oldbury and Berkeley sites have boosted into the spotlight, gaining a wide range of interest within Westminster, across the Western Gateway, and the wider UK.

Despite being shortlisted as one of the last five sites to be considered home to the £220 million programme and receiving positive feedback in assessments, the government announced this week that STEP will be developed at the West Burton A site in Nottinghamshire.

The Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production programme (STEP) is the national project to develop a prototype energy plant to prove the commercial viability of fusion. Fusion has been described as having the potential to become the “ultimate low carbon energy” source, recreating the reaction that takes place within the sun.

Following the decision the UK Atomic Energy Authority, which is responsible for delivering the programme, stated that “the site has many attractive features and would likely be an outstanding candidate for a wide range of developments” and the decision was “testimony to the highly competitive nature of the process”.

They complimented the “partnership approach” that was taken and were sure that this “will result in Severn Edge site being utilised for other important projects in the future”.

Katherine Bennett CBE, chair of the Western Gateway Partnership, said: “I send my congratulations to the team behind the West Burton A bid and am reassured that this is not the end of discussions with UKAEA about a role for the Western Gateway and Severn Edge in supporting fusion and related technology.

"I am very proud of the work our partners have done as part of the Severn Edge team. We have enormously raised the profile of the area – the incredible strengths and expertise of our communities and built a compelling case for the need to invest.

“The Severn Edge site continues to be perfectly placed to benefit communities in England and Wales whilst also tapping into world-leading expertise and supply chains. This is by no means the end of the road for this project, I look forward to where Severn Edge goes next.”

The Western Gateway partnership represents the economic powerhouse of South Wales and Western England and brings together public sector, business and research to level up communities, create sustainable growth and work to reach Net Zero.

Cllr Toby Savage, vice-chair of the Western Gateway partnership and Leader of South Gloucestershire Council, said: “It’s been great to see the community unite behind our bid with support from businesses, industry, universities and politicians making clear the strengths our communities in England and Wales have to deliver at this scale.

"Whilst we are disappointed by this decision, I am looking forward to finding new ways of adapting these promising sites to create low carbon energy, creating new opportunities for local people and decarbonising the nation’s economy."

Cllr Mark Hawthorne, leader of Gloucestershire County Council and Western Gateway board member, said: “Clearly this is very disappointing news for the Severn Edge STEP bid and my thanks go to all involved and the hard work they put into showcasing the offer we have in Oldbury and Berkeley.

"We will continue to look at options for these sites and whilst we have not been successful, we have established a strong case to be the home of green technology in the future.”

Peter Davison is deputy editor of The Business Magazine. He has spent his life in journalism – doing work experience in newsrooms in and around Bristol while still at school, and landing his first job on a local newspaper aged 19. By 28 he was the youngest newspaper editor in the country.

An early advocate of online news, he spent the first years of the 2000s telling his bosses that the internet posed both the biggest opportunity and greatest threat to the newspaper industry and the art of journalism. He was right on both counts.

Since 2006 he has enjoyed a career as a freelance journalist. He lives in rural Wiltshire with one wife, two children, and three cats.

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