From fission to fusion: nuclear engineering facility converted into solar powered skills centre

skills centre handover exterior photo
© Hewitt Studios

The nuclear power industry runs on fission, but our future is fusion, as Bill McDonough put it:

Don't get me wrong: I love nuclear energy! It's just that I prefer fusion to fission. And it just so happens that there's an enormous fusion reactor safely banked a few million miles from us. It delivers more than we could ever use in just about 8 minutes. And it's wireless!

That is why it is so wonderful to see this new project from Hewitt Studios; It takes the engineering hall from the old fission powered Berkeley nuclear power station on the Severn Estuary in England, and turns it into a fusion powered centre for renewable technologies, a Renewable Energy and Engineering Skills Centre, which is a lovely and fitting second life, with a 100kw solar array built into its facade.

skills centre handover exterior photo night © Hewitt Studios

Joe Romm riffed on McDonough's line with a longer version of his own:

I am a big proponent of harnessing the power of fusion — from 93 million miles away. Fusion is done by our sun really, really well and for free. Here on Earth in reactors … not so much. And so the famous saying, “fusion energy is fifty years away — and always will be.” ....Unlike fusion in the past three decades, renewables, especially solar and wind, have seen major technological advances, a steady drop in cost, and major innovations in manufacturing leading to commercial products.

Berkeley Green SGS Skills Centre.© Hewitt Studios

And we are seeing this happening right here- a former nuclear facility being used to teach how to use and install those renewables. This is a major technological advance. Paul Younger of Hewitt Studios describes it:

Elements of the building fabric will be used to deliver specific areas of curriculum (e.g. solar photovoltaics and rainwater harvesting), whilst the responsible re-use of an existing building will set a low-carbon precedent for future developments to follow.

engineering hall photo© Hewitt Studios

Green initiatives include a Building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) facade, thermally efficient envelope, innovative Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) system, low-waste construction methods (inc. LVL timber structure and ‘dazzle camo’ plywood insertions to contrast with the retained shell) and water recycling.

dazzle camophlageWikipedia/Public Domain

Dazzle camouflage painting was developed in World War I to confuse the enemy, making it difficult to estimate range, speed and heading and therefore causing the enemy to miss his shot when firing. One hopes that the young students won’t start walking into walls unexpectedly. But it does make for a more interesting interior.

exterior without panels© Hewitt Studios/ framing before solar panels are installed

There is more to come, a full ten hectares of UTC (University Technical College), a Cyber Security Centre for the University of Gloucestershire and a Solar Renewable Centre. Paul writes:

We are also developing plans for a site-wide renewables package with the ultimate aim of becoming a zero-carbon campus. These include a government-backed solar at scale scheme (with building, car park and ground mounted PVs), tidal power, wind generation and battery storage. Impact will be minimised with significant areas of habitat creation (supported by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust) and a comprehensive green transport strategy including a cross-campus electric minibus infrastructure.

Interior© Hewitt Studios

When Elon Musk announced the Powerwall battery system, he did his own version of the fusion joke:

We have this handy fusion reactor in the sky called the sun, you don't have to do anything, it just works. It shows up every day.

Now we will have kids showing up every day at an old fission plant that's been turned into “a hub for the sustainable energy industry; raising aspirations, attracting young people to STEM careers and providing skilled people to fill the technology skills shortage, all within a sustainable and low-impact environment,” all powered by that giant fusion reactor in the sky. How ironic and wonderful.

Tags: Education | renovation | Solar Power | United Kingdom

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