An ITER view from Down Under

Anisotropy… Bayesian interference… flow and chaos in fusion plasmas…, these are some of the topics that Matthew Hole, a fellow at the Plasma Research Laboratory of the Australian National University (ANU), discussed last week at a meeting with ITER physicists.

Down at ANU, 17,000 kilometres from the ITER site, the interest for fusion and for its international „flagship experiment” is strong. For years, the fusion community there has been active in trying to establish some official form of cooperation with ITER. The Australian ITER Forum, which Matthew Hole chairs, was created in 2006 to promote such an engagement.

In Australia, as in any other part of the world, a fusion physicist’s path always ends up crossing that of ITER. Individual involvements in ITER-related issues (such as Diagnostics, which is one major area of Australia’s fusion community’s expertise) are many but no formal, institutional, collaboration has yet been established.

„The fusion community there is eager to see Australia engage with ITER. But we are scientists, working in universities for the most part. What we need is an endorsement from the Australian government… and the necessary resources.”

The form this collaboration could take is open to discussion. „It is clear that Australia will not be a 'major partner' like the present ITER Members,” says Matthew. „Australia has a rich diversity of energy options, so the national energy security driver is not perceived to be as strong.

The „frustration” Matthew acknowledges hasn’t dimmed his enthusiasm and he remains „passionate” about the whole issue. „ITER,” he says, „will define the fusion research program for at least the next generation. We want to be part of that enterprise…”

Last Wednesday in Cadarache, Matthew got his first opportunity to feel the reality of the project that has been on his mind for so many years. "The ITER site is huge," he said, "it is one thing to know the basics of the machine, but quite another to appreciate the size and scale of the entire site. What also struck me is the enthusiasm and helpfulness of the ITER staff, as well as the friendliness of the people of Aix-en-Provence and Marseille…"

The sheer size of ITER might dwarf that of the recently upgraded H-1 NF stellarator operated at ANU’s Plasma Fusion Research Facility, but if size matters, it is not all that fusion is about. Australia’s fusion device is small (major radius R=1.0 m), but the fusion community there is strong, enthusiastic and determined, and the country has a long history of breakthroughs and innovation in fusion research.