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Could Pembrokeshire be home to ‘hugely ambitious’ fusion power plant?

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A LOCATION is needed host a prototype nuclear fusion power plant, which a government-backed programme plans to build by 2040.

The UK government is asking Pembrokeshire communities to put themselves forward as the site of a future fusion power plant.

Communities are being asked to step forward with proposals to house a prototype fusion power plant in a move that could propel them on to the global stage in a world first.

The site does not need to be near existing nuclear power stations but will need 100 hectares of land and a plentiful water supply. Ministers say the project would bring thousands of skilled jobs and be part of its planned “green industrial revolution” to tackle the climate crisis.

The UK programme is called Step – the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production – and communities will have until the end of March 2021 to submit their nominations and will need to demonstrate that their local area has just the right mix of social, commercial and technical conditions to host the new plant – such as adequate land conditions, grid connection and water supply.

Nuclear fusion replicates the intense atomic reactions that power the sun and uses a hydrogen isotope found in seawater as fuel. It cannot produce a runaway chain reaction like conventional nuclear fission, which involves splitting atoms rather than fusing them together. The level of radioactive waste is also far lower. No exclusion zone will be needed around the site, officials said.

However, the technical challenges are enormous and the programme’s leaders acknowledge it is “hugely ambitious”. This is because fuel heated to 10 times the temperature of the sun has to be magnetically levitated to stop it melting the reactor vessel. Scientists and engineers have pursued the dream of limitless and clean fusion energy for more than half a century, but the first power stations remain decades away.

The project has been granted £222m to date by the government.

Communities have until March 2021 to submit their nominations, with the successful site chosen by the end of 2022.

“We want the UK to be a trailblazer in developing fusion energy,” said Alok Sharma, the business and energy secretary. He said communities had an “incredible opportunity to secure their place in the history books” by potentially helping the UK to be the first country in the world to commercialise fusion power.

The UK has the largest working fusion reactor in the world – called Jet – at the Culham Science Centre near Oxford. However, a far larger €20bn (£18bn) fusion reactor called Iter is being assembled in France, backed by the world’s biggest countries. It expects to create its first super-heated plasma by 2025 and reach full power by 2035, with the aim of demonstrating that more energy can be taken out than is put in.

The goal of Step is to show that a smaller and less expensive plant can create fusion power. Key to this is the spherical shape of the chamber that contains the plasma, which is more compact than the doughnut-shaped chamber being used at Iter.

However, this compactness means the Step system must have a much more efficient cooling system. Technology to achieve this is being tested in the Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak (Mast) experiment, also at Culham. But the Culham site is too small to host the Step project.

Prof Ian Chapman, the chief executive of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, which is leading Step, said: “Step is about moving from research and development to delivery. It will prove that fusion is not a far-off dream, but a dawning reality.”

Tim Luce, the chief scientist at Iter, said: “It is gratifying to see the UK make a firm commitment to continuing its historic leadership in magnetic fusion development. Step promises lower costs but faces various engineering and physics challenges, such as large stresses in the magnet structure and high heat fluxes to the wall. [But] first plasma in 2040 appears to be a realistic goal, assuming favourable and timely results in the present generation of spherical tokamaks.”

The UK is a participant in Iter due to its membership of Euratom, but it will leave the group after Brexit. However, officials say they are hopeful that the UK can rejoin Iter as an associate country.

The timetable for Step is to have a concept design by 2024, then a detailed engineering design allowing the start of construction in 2032 and operations to begin in 2040.

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Education

Delight as foundation phase learners return to class

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PEMBROKESHIRE Headteachers have reported very positive returns to school for Foundation Phase Learners.

All Foundation Phase Learners returned to schools on Monday, March 1st and attendance has been reported at almost 90% since.

The Council’s Director for Education, Steven Richards-Downes, said: “A wide range of council services have worked together to ensure that Foundation Phase pupils have been able to return
safely to school.

“I am particularly grateful to all school staff and families for ensure that learning is now available for our youngest learners face to face.”

Headteachers remarked how schools have filled with smiles and laughter following the safe and phased return of Foundation Phase learners.

Cora O’Brien, Headteacher at Waldo Williams School in Haverfordwest emphasised how quickly learners have settled back in to a routine.

“It has been an absolute joy to hear their laughter in the playground and to observe their love of learning face to face once again. I thank everybody in the Waldo Williams School
community for working so hard to ensure that the transition went smoothly.”

Vicky Hart-Griffiths, Headteacher of Ysgol Hafan y Mor in Tenby, said: “It has been wonderful to welcome all our Foundation Phase learners back to school. They are thriving, being amongst
friends and back to a school routine.  

“All the pupils have spoken about how happy they are to have returned and it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome them back and we can’t wait until we have all our pupils back in school.

“The school feels alive again and there’s a positive buzz and laughter once again echoing throughout the school.”

Gareth Lewis, Headteacher at Broad Haven CP School said children had returned “with real enthusiasm, and have been very keen to meet up with their friends.”

Mr Lewis added: “Our parents have been very supportive and positive about the return, and those with older children are very much looking forward to a wider return to schooling.”

Mr Richards-Downes said plans were now turning to more learners returning to schools in the near future.

“We are looking to the next phases of the re-opening of schools on the 15th of March as long as the government guidelines allow.”

Further details will be released in due course.

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Pembrokeshire County Council: This week’s Leader’s coronavirus update

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL Leader, Councillor David Simpson, has provided a further coronavirus update for Friday, 5th March as follows:

‘Welcome everyone to my weekly update.

“It is with rather a heavy heart that I tell you that it’s almost 12 months since my first statement on the coronavirus pandemic.

“On 9th March 2020, I addressed our Cabinet meeting with the following words:

“Further to the news yesterday that two people in Pembrokeshire had tested as positive for the Covid 19 virus, I am sure you will join me in wishing them both a speedy and full recovery.

“I can reassure you that our services will continue as usual, and all our employees can continue to attend to their work, appointments, schools and services as they normally would.

“We should all help protect ourselves and our communities by following Public Health Wales advice, particularly around washing hands and using a tissue for symptoms associated with cold and flu and then safely disposing of it.

“I am grateful to the co-operation and hard work of all of our staff and we will provide further updates and information when we have them.

“In the meantime I can confirm that detailed planning arrangements, both internally, with partner agencies and through the Dyfed Powys Local Resilience Forum, are well underway to ensure that the Council and Pembrokeshire are as well placed as possible for whatever challenges we may face. Thank you.”

“I am sure you will join me while I take a moment now to remember all those people in Pembrokeshire and further afield, who, very sadly, passed away since I made that announcement.

“I continue to be incredibly grateful, as I’m sure you are, to everyone who is helping to beat this pandemic, working so very hard now for over a year.

“We are fortunate now to be in a position where the vaccine programme is protecting older members of our community and starting to roll out among one of the biggest groups – the over 65s and those with underlying health conditions.

“This time next week (12th March) the Welsh Government will have notified us of their plans for the next three weeks.

“In the meantime, we remain in Alert Level 4 and the stay at home message continues to be more important than ever as we reach the threshold of better times.

“I wish you all a good weekend and thank you once again to the vast majority of wonderful Pembrokeshire residents who are doing the right thing and waiting patiently at home for restrictions to lift.

“We do really appreciate your efforts and determination to help bring this pandemic to an end.”

 

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Sergeant Hillier ‘died doing the job he loved’, says his heartbroken father

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THE ARMY SERGEANT who died after being injured in a live firing exercise, has been named locally.

The incident occurred at Castlemartin Training Area, and led to the death of Sgt Gavin Hillier, who was in the Welsh Guards.

In a post on social media, his father wrote: “Absolutely devastated to be writing this post, probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

“At 3.45am this morning I received a phone call that will forever change my life. My eldest son Gavin Mark Hillier was in a fatal accident yesterday in the army (the job he loved).

“Sleep tight & rest in peace son. I’m so proud of you. Goodnight and god bless, love your heartbroken dad.”

An Army spokesperson said: “It is with great sadness we can confirm the death of a soldier on March 4.

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this tragic time.

“The circumstances surrounding this death are being investigated and it would be inappropriate to comment any further.”

It is understood that Sergeant Hillier, who served as part of the Welsh Guards’ motor transport platoon, was due to be deployed to Iraq and had previously been awarded a Long Service and Good Conduct medal by Prince Charles, the regiment’s Colonel in Chief, in 2019.

The tragic incident is the latest in a number of accidents at Castlemartin.

In 2017, The Herald reported that two soldiers died in a tank explosion, which a coroner ruled was due to a design flaw.

The following year, an Army captain was jailed in July 2018 after a 21-year-old soldier was killed by a stray bullet during an exercise at the range in 2012.

An investigation has been launched into the death of a soldier at Castlemartin RAC Range following a military exercise.

Police were called to the site at just before 10.45pm on March 4.

Sadly, a man was pronounced dead shortly after. Our thoughts are with his family, who have been informed of the incident and are being supported by specialist officers.

An investigation is underway led by Dyfed-Powys Police. Officers are liaising with the Health and Safety Executive and MoD.

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