Pembrokeshire County Council has entered the STEP site nomination process with the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) for a site on land adjacent to Valero Refinery and RWE Pembroke Power station, to host a Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) fusion power station.
If approved, the facility will initially host research with the ultimate aim of developing the technology which could offer a virtually limitless source of clean electricity by copying the processes that powers the sun.
A prototype fusion power plant could be built as soon as 2040.
Pembrokeshire is one of several candidate sites being considered following a UK Government open call to communities across the UK.
A report for members of the council’s Cabinet, due to meet on Monday, May 17, states: “Fusion energy is turning the process that powers the sun into carbon-free, safe and abundant electricity for a cleaner planet. Often cited as the ‘energy of the future’ or the ‘energy holy grail’ fusion technology involves superheating hydrogen atoms into a plasma state so that nuclei fuse together releasing vast amounts of energy from a very small amount of fuel.
“This technology is the opposite of ‘traditional’ nuclear fission (splitting nuclei to release energy) which has a waste legacy and associated radioactivity dangers.”
Fusion research and development has been ongoing for many years, with an increasing confidence that a clear path to commercial operation can now be planned, the report adds.
The reports says the fusion process is inherently safe with low environmental impact and no risk of meltdown. “Chernobyl or Fukushima-type accidents are not possible in a Tokamak fusion device. It is difficult enough to reach and maintain the precise conditions necessary for fusion—if any disturbance occurs, the plasma cools within seconds and the reaction stops virtually instantly.”
In terms of the abundant energy possible from fusion, the report says that fusion fuels are widely available and nearly inexhaustible, adding: “As a simplistic rule of thumb UKAEA advise that a bath full of seawater and two lithium laptop batteries can meet a person’s lifetime energy needs.”
Subject to the site being included, Cabinet approval is required to back and support the progress of the nominated site through the full UKAEA assessment process.
Cllr Paul Miller, cabinet member for economic development said: “The Haven Waterway has provided livelihoods, underpinned by fossil fuels, for thousands of Pembrokeshire families, mine included, for more than 50 years.
“It’s my job to help ensure the waterway continues to provide high skilled, engineering, science and technology jobs for the next generation of this county and so linked to our focus on climate change (and in addition to our existing multi-million pound commitments to supporting wind, wave and tidal clean power generation) my team have been exploring whether we can also support the development of clean, green fusion technology.
“It very early days in the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s site selection process but we’ll provide regular updates as things progress.”