As set out in the Government’s fusion strategy, the environmental and economic impact of fusion energy could be transformational. The Government’s programme aims to drive commercialisation of fusion energy by building a prototype fusion energy plant by 2040.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. When I was studying physics at university more than 40 years ago, fusion was a gleam in our professor’s eye. Now we have been able to achieve it, but the key is scalability. What effort is my right hon. Friend making to invest in the research and development that is required to bring this clean, cheap and green energy to fruition?
As my hon. Friend says, fusion has always been talked about as 20 years hence, but to speed that up we have invested £700 million in fusion in the spending review period. We are working to get the world’s first fusion power station connected to the grid by 2040, with works scheduled to start in 2032.
The north-west has long been home to a large number of jobs dependent on the nuclear sector. Does my right hon. Friend foresee the potential for future jobs in the north-west as we continue to develop nuclear fusion technology?
Yes, absolutely. Fusion technology could be fantastic for the north-west and part of a big jobs boost. The UK Atomic Energy Authority believes that around 4,500 suppliers will be involved in that, and many of them will be in the north-west.
With the West Burton spherical tokamak for energy production plan, we have the opportunity to further solidify the east midlands as the home of the UK nuclear sector. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the economic benefits to the east midlands of that plant?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and the importance of that plant to the east midlands could be tremendous. The spherical tokamak for energy production—STEP—programme could support a large number of jobs. When I launched “Powering up Britain” with the Prime Minister at Culham, we stood next to the tokamak—the hottest place in the solar system. Some might think that that would be the sun, but it is 10 times hotter than the sun. To put that in context, that would be more than all the hot air from Edward Miliband in an entire year.
I am going to have to riff this one, since that came out of the blue. The UK Atomic Energy Authority is working across the country, including with Manchester University. Its CEO, Sir Ian Chapman, is very proactive on this issue, and he hopes to work with Manchester University, and other institutions, to ensure that the coal-fired power station that was closed down at the end of March in West Burton is opened as a fusion power station connected to the grid. That will be done with the help of Manchester University and many other institutions.
Even nuclear fusion’s most ardent advocates admit that it will be decades before an operational power station is built. At the same time, I remind the Secretary of State that his own Government’s target for decarbonising the power sector is 2035, so nuclear fusion will be no help in meeting that target. Instead of wasting taxpayers’ money on yet another nuclear white elephant, why will the Secretary of State not fully harness the things that we know will work, which means an energy system based on renewables backed up with interconnectors, batteries and storage, unblocking onshore wind and unleashing a rooftop solar revolution? Why is he not doing that, which will make the transition much quicker and much cheaper?
Well, Mr Speaker, we are! When we came to power in 2010, just 7% of our electricity was coming from renewables. Right now, if I look at renewables plus nuclear—I know the hon. Lady does not like to look at nuclear—that figure was 57% in the last year. The idea that we should ignore technology and take that luddite approach to energy is not the energy security that this Government seek.
I have been a supporter of nuclear power and nuclear fusion in particular, and we in Northern Ireland want to take advantage of that, although we have been unable to do so until now. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland about nuclear technology and creating energy for rural farming, which is a massive industry not just in Northern Ireland but in my constituency of Strangford? We want to be part of this growth. How can that happen?
I firmly believe that all parts of the United Kingdom should be part of our nuclear revolution to ensure that we can get a quarter of our electricity from nuclear. Small modular reactors could be of tremendous interest in Northern Ireland, providing more localised power to individual communities which previously would not have been up for a gigawatt-style power station.