The future for fusion: Government consults on National Policy Statement EN-8 for Nuclear Fusion Energy

England and Wales

The Government is now seeking views for a new National Policy Statement (NPS) for nuclear fusion. Full details of the consultation can be found here. This new NPS, which will be termed ‘EN-8’, is intended to provide both a clear market signal that the UK is ‘open for business’ for developers of Fusion Energy facilities, while also providing guidance to those developers and consenting authorities about what is required to obtain consent.

It was confirmed within the Energy Act 2023 that nuclear fusion energy facilities will not be subject to the Nuclear Installations Act 1965. Accordingly, these facilities will not be regulated by the Office for Nuclear Regulation and will not require a nuclear site licence. Instead, regulation will be through the Health and Safety Executive as well as the Environment Agency, or their devolved equivalents. The Energy Act 2023 confirmed that the reason for nuclear fusion and nuclear fission facilities being regulated separately due is due to their different risk profiles; nuclear fusion is typically much less dangerous therefore doesn’t warrant the same stringent level of regulation. This is part of the reason why Government considers it appropriate to have a dedicated nuclear fusion NPS. This article provides a summary of the Government’s proposals within the consultation for EN-8.

Types of Development

Government has proposed that all fusion energy facilities would be incorporated into the nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIP) process. This will require an amendment to the Planning Act 2008, so that all Fusion Energy Facilities are deemed to be NSIPs. This designation will be regardless of their level of output, and whether they produce electricity for the grid or alternatively heat for local industry (e.g. for desalination plants or hydrogen generating facilities). However, the proposals are only aimed at fusion energy generating facilities; sites which have a primary focus of nuclear fusion research will not be subject to EN-8 and developers will need to proceed down the existing consenting route (i.e. an application to their respective local authority under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990).

Technology Inclusive Approach

The consultation document acknowledges that commercial fusion devices which utilise a variety of technologies are planned for the coming decades. In its 2023 Fusion Strategy, Government committed to building a world-leading industry which supported multiple fusion technologies. It is proposed that all fusion energy facilities will be included in EN-8, independent of their fusion technology. However, in line with the Energy Act 2023, any fusion-fission hybrids will not be within the scope of EN-8 and will require a nuclear site licence, given their use of bulk quantities of nuclear and radioactive materials.

Open Siting Approach

Additionally, Government has made it clear that it intends to have a developer-led approach to siting future Fusion Energy Facilities. Under the current proposals, developers will need to present to the Planning Inspectorate potential sites which can accommodate their proposed development and that have been selected using a broad range of criteria. The criteria currently proposed by the Government include considerations such as access to suitable sources of cooling, the cumulative impact of multiple devices at a given site (reflecting the fact that current designs for what Fusion Energy Facilities will look like remain unclear), and a consideration of possible alternative sites. This approach to siting is aligned with the approach taken within other energy NPSs and emphasises that this technology is different to nuclear for which specific sites are set out at national level.

As part of the consultation, the Government has issued an Appraisal of Sustainability (AoS) Scoping Report and a draft Habitat Regulations Assessment (HRA). The criteria for site selection currently proposed by the Government will be developed in more detail once the AoS and HRA have been conducted.

It is expected that Fusion Energy Facilities will be situated closer to settlements than their Fission counterparts. Again, this is due to nuclear fusion being deemed a lower risk source of energy than Nuclear Fission, and it is expected that the UK population will have a greater level of comfort when living near to these facilities. Government has proposed not to set a deployment deadline, so as to avoid the risk of unsuitable sites being selected in a ‘rush’ to meet any such deadline.

Timeline

The consultation was announced in May 2024 before the UK General Election. The consultation is still open and will close on 3 July 2024 and responses can be submitted here. Government expects to publish its response to this consultation in Autumn 2024. The AoS and HRA will then be conducted and the draft NPS prepared, which will itself be put out for consultation in Autumn 2025. The final NPS is then expected to be published in Winter 2025, at which point it will be put before Parliament and designated.

Co-authored by Oliver Le May