THE next phase of assessments is under way at Scotland’s only shortlisted location for the UK’s prototype fusion energy plant.

Experts have arrived at the site on the Ardeer peninsula in North Ayrshire, which was last month named on the list of five UK locations in the running to host the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (Step) plant.

Those behind the project say it would provide unlimited clean energy and could see thousands of jobs brought to the area and an economic boost to North Ayrshire and Scotland as a whole.

Officials from the UK Atomic Energy Authority have paid a second visit to the Ardeer site to build their understanding of its potential to host Step as they make their final deliberations ahead of an announcement expected in spring next year.

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The bid for the North Ayrshire site is being led by the Fusion Forward (Ardeer) consortium. It represents NPL Group, which owns the land, North Ayrshire Council and the University of Glasgow.

Step, supported by £222 million in funding from the UK Government, aims to design and construct a prototype fusion energy plant capable of providing an environmentally friendly source of electricity. It is expected to create thousands of highly-skilled jobs during construction and operations and to attract other high-tech industries to the chosen location.

The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) hopes to have the plant operating in the early 2040s. Initial aims are to produce a concept design by 2024. The proposal would be subject to regulatory assessments and public consultation.

Fusion energy is created by forcing atoms together in the same process by which the sun produces radiation, unlike a nuclear reactor, which relies on fission and breaking atoms apart to generate energy.

Proponents say that unlike nuclear fission reactors, fusion reactors produce no potentially harmful waste during their reactions.

Joe Cullinane, leader of North Ayrshire Council, said: “We were pleased to help facilitate the visit which allowed officials from the UKAEA to see for themselves the size, location, connections to transport networks, grid connectivity and access to skills and academic expertise which Ardeer has to offer.”