Q: How will you get Climate Change to wait until the second half of the century?
A: Part of a balanced response to ensuring we have dispatchable power available to replace our fleet of nuclear fission reactors and gas-fired power stations in order to meet our net zero targets: fusion has a part to play in the overall basket of solutions – we need every resource we can muster.
Q: How can you claim that this will have an effect on catastrophic climate change, since we need to reach zero carbon emissions way before this plant will be in operation?
A: There needs to be a forward strategy on how we maintain carbon zero, but yet address the increasing power requirements of the earth’s population. The scale of the problem is enormous: just as our fission reactors are retiring from service (in Scotland, nuclear fission provides about 10-20% of our carbon-free power generation), transport and domestic heating is being electrified, so increasing the demands on electricity generation.
The trick here is to balance as many carbon-free energy sources as possible to deliver the power required, including power-on-demand for when the weather is variable.
Q: Building the site also has a large carbon footprint
A: UKAEA and NAC are both committed to minimising the carbon footprint of new buildings, using sustainable practices. The reality is that we need to ensure we have the generating capacity that helps us function, but keeps carbon out of the cycle.
Q: How can you improve on nature’s regeneration of the Ardeer peninsula?
A: Assuming that there is a community desire to resume some industrial activity on a fraction of the site currently left fallow, then any transient disturbance that construction inevitably causes can be mitigated by helping with the full natural evolution of the remaining untouched regions.
Q: I am concerned that you get permission to go ahead and then its abandoned and we have lost our natural environment?
A: It would be devastating to everyone involved if the project was awarded and then abandoned – but bear in mind that the STEP requirement for land is less than a quarter of the NPL holdings on Ardeer – STEP will not touch the majority of the land
Q: Ardeer may have been industrialised in the past, but even that was quite sympathetic to the local habitats. Now nature has done an amazing job of regenerating the area by itself. Why not just leave it alone and keep it as a nature reserve?
A: That’s a perfectly valid viewpoint: what is happening here is that the community is being asked if they would be interested in redeveloping a small part of Ardeer site to host a fusion power station. The community will have to weigh up the impact that this would have on jobs and future prospects for young folk against leaving Ardeer alone.
Q: The Ardeer peninsula is home to more than 1500 different species of plants and animals, a number of which are nationally rare. How do you plan on addressing the impact an operation of this size will have on the local environment?
A: STEP is inherently an environmentally conscious programme, and UKAEA seeks to optimise environmental performance across programme and plant design. Full consultation with all relevant organisations and parties will be undertaken to ensure this.
Q: Have you also considered the fact that the land may be contaminated from the explosives factory? Have you considered that any land works in the area may create a lot of additional contamination and create further damage to the natural habitats? There is a designated SSI on the peninsula that needs to be protected.
A: A full investigation of the land condition will be undertaken if the site is selected; the initial assessment (based on records) has not revealed any showstoppers in terms of existing contamination. The SSSI is not part of the land under consideration, and so will not be touched. Moreover, the proposal for STEP would only take a fraction of the NPL land holding.
Q: How great is the risk of contamination from Industrial waste already on the Ardeer peninsula which will be disturbed during construction?
A: That is something that the full site survey would address.
Q: For the future, will there be a EIA undertaken for the site, as Ardeer Peninsula is one of the most biodiverse sites in Scotland and this information is readily available?
A: Yes, an EIA will be part of the full planning process that will be undertaken if Ardeer was selected as the site for STEP .
Q: There is evidence of erosion of the Ardeer peninsula by the sea. How has this and the expected rise in sea levels been taken into account in the planning for the plant?
Q: The Ardeer Peninsula might be at risk from rising sea levels due to climate change and from the pictures it looks like part of the building will be below ground level – can you explain your risk assessment to us?
A: Good point – the whole peninsula will need protecting against rising sea levels, irrespective of STEP
The artist’s impression of what STEP might look like doesn’t take into account any prevailing local conditions – it had to be produced before the site competition was started. Any final design will be tailored to the selected site, and the prevailing conditions.
Q: What would happen if the site goes ahead and becomes flooded by sea water?
A: The intention is to have minimal effect on any natural resources – remember, if STEP comes to Ardeer, it will only use a fraction of the available land holding, and no environmentally sensitive areas will be damaged – including the sand dunes
Q: Would protecting the site put the rest of Ardeer at greater risk?
A: If this is a reference to flood protection, then the answer is no: it is not consistent with local government or environmental policy to protect industrial premises at the expense of the rest of the neighbourhood (domestic properties etc). Protection measures must always meet the approval of the appropriate authorities.
Q: What do we know about the environmental impact of this development?
A: UKAEA are committed to the enhancement of biodiversity. As part of the planning process, the UKAEA will undertake an Environmental Impact Assessment. During the scoping phase, there will be a consultation process to ensure that all relevant aspects are covered. This assessment will evaluate the likely environmental impacts of the proposed project, taking into account inter-related socio-economic, cultural and human-health impacts.
The environment and wildlife will be at the forefront of any considerations in this process. As part of the engagement with the local community and stakeholders, their views on how best to protect the local environment will be welcomed.
Q: As Ardeer is known to be one of the most important biodiversity sites in North Ayrshire and is thought by entomologists to be the best site in Scotland for bees and wasps, how is it proposed to protect the mobile and fixed dune and dune heath habitats which are vital for these species?
A: The initial site nomination offered 3 locations all of which avoided the ecologically sensitive Bogside Flats SSSI as identified on the NatureScot website.
If Ardeer is successful, the UKAEA will undertake a Section 36 application (Planning) to the Scottish Government. This will require to be accompanied by an Environmental Impact Assessment due to the scale of the development. UKAEA will consult with statutory and local bodies during the EIA Scoping process to ensure that all relevant ecological aspects are considered. There will also be opportunity for informal consultation through UKAEA events.
The ecological survey works undertaken will not only be used for Planning but also to assist in the design to minimise any impact. The nominating consortium of University of Glasgow, NPL and North Ayrshire Council have consistently noted the biodiversity importance of Ardeer in information shared with UKAEA and UKAEA recognise the importance of such in their selection process.
We and the Scottish Government in the Planning process will take a balanced approach, that takes account of many factors. This includes any impacts on ecology and biodiversity of the area, as well as the socio-economic benefits of STEP. STEP potentially offers an opportunity for this and future generations to address challenges like high levels of child poverty, an enduring issue in the area, and fuel poverty, and to create a true well-being economy.
Ardeer is Scotland’s largest brownfield site, and the owners are offering UKAEA some flexibility on siting within the peninsula to further minimise any impact.
Q: Will the site rely on traditional energy sources until it is functional, and to generate plasma? Will this be accounted for in Carbon budgeting?
A: Almost 100% of the South of Scotland’s energy comes from renewable sources. Although the detail is not yet known, we anticipate that the project will be powered by renewables from the outset.
North Ayrshire Council as the host Local Authority is deeply committed to carbon reduction with ambitious targets of being net zero by 2030, having declared a climate emergency in 2019. This means we will work with the STEP team to ensure the greenest possible approach to construction and operations is taken.