Sheffield City Region is making a zero emissions Northern Powerhouse

In a week in which the University of Sheffield marks its support for Covering Climate Now, it is fittingthat a site close to the old Orgreave coking plant should be announced as the home for a world-first in clean, zero carbon energy generation.

Wednesday, 2nd October 2019, 09:07 am
Launch of £22m nuclear fusion centre at the Advanced Manufacturing Park. Sarah Champion MP, Keith Ridgway (Exec. Dean AMRC), Liz Surrey (UK AEA head of technology), Ian Chapman (CEO UK AEA) and Andrew Storer (CEO Nuclear AMRC). (Picture Scott Merrylees)

Where coal was once hewn from the ground to fuel an earlier industrial revolution, the first sods were dug to lay the foundations for a very different kind of energy source: the fusion of hydrogen nuclei, the process that powers the sun. The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority’s new £22 million fusion technology facility will be constructed across the road from the University of Sheffield Nuclear AMRC, and once open in September 2020 will mark a significant stepping stone towards turning the dream of abundant, clean and safe electricity into a reality.

For the Sheffield City Region to be selected as a major centre for this clean energy revolution is testimony to the University’s engineering research talents – we are first in the UK for engineering research income and investment ahead of Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College London – and to the vision of its local councils, Rotherham and Sheffield, who are determined to transform what was once the beating heart of the first industrial revolution into the world’s most prestigious Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District.

This new facility could quite easily have been built at UKAEA’s Culham HQ in Oxfordshire, in the so-called ‘golden triangle’ of the South East or elsewhere in the north of England. Instead, South Yorkshire was chosen for its long and proud history of advanced nuclear manufacturing, its engineering research expertise and the role it is increasingly playing in the renewal of the wider Northern Powerhouse economy.

At the Nuclear AMRC, we support companies across the UK in winning work in nuclear new build and with reactor development around the world. From innovative small modular reactors to a new generation of advanced fission and fusion power plants, we are applying our engineering expertise to make sure that these innovative designs can be turned into reality, and manufactured in a safe and cost-effective way to provide affordable sustainable energy for generations to come.

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The scale of the opportunity, and the significance of the investment, was not lost on the Director of City Growth at Sheffield City Council, Ed Highfield, who sees the UKAEA’s facility as “yet another strategic industrial capability for a region that is fast becoming the go-to-place for advanced manufacturing innovators looking to solve some of the world’s most complex and seemingly intractable challenges.” And none come more challenging and urgent than climate change.

Although located in the North of England, the fusion research facility will be inextricably connected to a much grander, global endeavour. As a key part of the world’s largest fusion energy project, ITER in the South of France, the new building taking shape on the growing Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District will put Rotherham and South Yorkshire firmly on the European and global energy stage.

This is a very significant addition to the region and, to be clear, it will attract a lot of global interest, and with it, many followers wanting to invest and be close to this development.

The new facility will test materials and components in conditions which reproduce the incredible temperatures, heat loadings and magnetic forces inside a future fusion power plant.

It will also attract some of the best and brightest brains from around the world and will plug universities across the North into a powerful international research network, opening new opportunities for smart minds to collaborate with one another in the quest for the ultimate source of safe, non-carbon emitting and

abundant energy.

To say I am extremely proud to have played a small part in this development would be a huge understatement. Hopefully, generations to come will look back on the simple ceremony that took place so close to Orgreave this week as being crucial to turning today’s fusion research experiments into tomorrow’s fusion power plants: tackling climate change head on and making the North, truly a power house to be proud of.