A peep into the future



Last week, 16-20 September, the fusion community convened in Barcelona, Spain for the International Symposium on Fusion Nuclear Technology (ISFNT). More than 750 participants gathered at the Palau de Congressos to be brought up to date on developments in the field of fusion technology and materials and on the construction of ITER—the „symbol and example of global cooperation to tackle a global energy problem,” according to Pere Torres, Secretary of Enterprise and Competitiveness of the Generalitat de Catalunya, as he opened the symposium.

The ISFNT is recognized as one of the main international gatherings on fusion energy with a clear focus on reactor-relevant technology. In its 11th edition last week, the symposium took a close look not only on the current state-of-the-art technology related to ITER, but also dared to look forward to the possible design, requirements and safety aspects of future DEMO reactors and power plants.

The road forward, it seems, is not yet clearly delineated. Different concepts were presented; some countries, like China, seem to even have more than one iron in the fire. Complementing these discussions, a special fusion Roadmap Panel—moderated by prominent fusion representatives—tried to narrow down the key issues on the way to a fusion reactor.

Dedicated workshops addressed future reactor-relevant technologies such as ceramic breeder blankets or the treatment of beryllium; a half-day industrial workshop was set up to provide companies with updated information on the current procurement status of ITER and forthcoming opportunities; no less than 161 posters gave lots of opportunity to exchange and connect. And this is what the ISFNT is all about. In the words of Pere Torres, „This event contributes to the collaboration amongst researchers and allows for the sharing of knowledge.” 

The conference closed with a presentation by South Korea as host to the next ISFNT from 14-18 September 2015 on the island of Jeju.

Team-building initiative between Japan and Korea

A workshop on fusion technology beyond ITER was successfully held between the Japanese and the Korean Domestic Agencies on 8-9 November at the National Fusion Research Institute in Daejeon, Korea. A first event of this kind, the workshop aimed at sharing the technology and experience of ITER procurement and also at discussing the development pathway for fusion engineering and technology beyond ITER in Japan and Korea.

More than 40 experts in fusion attended from both countries, including the head of the Korean Domestic Agency, Dr. Kijung Jung, and the head of the Japanese Domestic Agency, Dr. Eisuke Tada.

As both Domestic Agencies have entered into the full-fledged process of procurement for ITER, it was beneficial to share technical know-how, and to exchange ideas in regards to meeting the procurement schedule as well as securing core technology without any loss of productivity.

In addition, the workshop contributed to building close collaboration between the Japanese and the Korean Domestic Agencies, precisely in the spirit of the Unique ITER team for the successful implementation of all commitments for the ITER project.


Pneumatic Shutter for Nuclear Fusion

From 2020 onwards, the ITER fusion reactor will demonstrate how nuclear fusion can be used as an energy source. However, inside the reactor, the plasma at a temperature of 100 million degrees presents scientists with huge challenges. Direct contact would destroy important optical instruments within a short period of time.

At the 27th Symposium on Fusion Technology (SOFT), from 24 to 28 September 2012 in Liège (Belgium), Jülich researchers are showing how the delicate instruments can be protected by means of new shutter and cooling systems. Among other options, they will present a patented shutter controlled by a pneumatic cylinder which was developed specifically for ultra-high vacuum.

For the first time, ITER will generate excess energy of 500 million watts for a duration of about ten minutes in order to provide us with experience for the construction of subsequent fusion power plants. Not only the burn chamber but the entire measuring technology has to be developed from scratch for this fusion experiment, which is being monitored by scientists all over the world.

Optical monitoring methods are indispensable for assessing the plasma properties and composition. However, optical elements in the vicinity of the plasma are exposed to extremely high loads. The plasma, largely composed of hydrogen and helium nuclei, erodes part of the surface material but also deposits contaminants. Thermal energy must be continuously removed in order to keep the temperature constant.

„The greatest technological challenge is to find suitable materials and designs to protect and cool the optical elements that can also be cleaned when they are installed in the machine” explains Dr. Olaf Neubauer from the Jülich Institute of Energy and Climate Research, Plasma Physics (IEK-4). Together with colleagues from Forschungszentrum Jülich and partner institutions, Neubauer organized the SOFT conference with more than 800 participants this year.

All the components in ITER’s burn chamber can essentially only be serviced by remote-controlled tools or robots. At the conference, Jülich plasma researchers are presenting a new fast shutter for a spectrometer that protects the optical instruments when they are not in use for measurements, in particular during ignition when most of the contaminating particles are mobile.

„In designing the structure, the main problem was that the shutter is exposed to even higher loads than the optical instruments themselves. Furthermore, a movement mechanism had to be invented that could cope with the extreme plasma conditions and the ultra-high vacuum," says David Castaño Bardawil. Conventional bearings cannot be used because of their abrasion and the Jülich solution therefore makes use of flexible arms. They are operated by an actuator that was specially developed and patented, into which helium is fed under pressure.

Electric drives cannot be used in the burn chamber due to the strong disturbing magnetic fields.  „The shutter is additionally protected by a molybdenum screen, which reflects the thermal radiation. Together with a sophisticated combination of thermally conducting and insulating materials this maintains an acceptable temperature,” says Castaño Bardawil, an engineer in Neubauer’s working group.

At SOFT 2012, other Jülich scientists are presenting new concepts for uniformly cooling the instrument mirrors under extreme conditions. „Large temperature differences arise on the mirror surface close to the cooling channels. With the aid of simulations, we optimized the cooling channels in order to minimize divergences,” explains Andreas Krimmer, who also works in the field of fusion technology. The temperature-related high pressure of the coolant causes other deformations. At the moment, researchers are testing various elastic materials in order to even out the deformations thus ensuring that in 2020 the fusion plasma can be ignited in Cadarache.
Source: Forschungszentrum Jülich

Click here to read the Press Release.




27th SOFT conference focuses on ITER and beyond

The Belgium town of Liège, where in 1869 Zénobe Théophile Gramme invented the dynamo, was the venue of the 27th Symposium on Fusion Technology (SOFT). More than 1028 participants convened in the town’s Congress Centre last week to discuss the latest developments in fusion research.

The conference was opened in the presence of his Royal Highness Prince Philippe of Belgium who showed great interest in the „alternative energetic scenario”. Belgium’s Vice Minister President Jean-Claude Marcourt, one of the keynote speakers during the opening ceremony, said that with the ITER project and „its large-scale involvement new hopes have appeared”.

Marcourt stressed that access to energy and economic development were closely linked. „And what are fifty years [of development] compared to the scale of the Universe”, Marcourt continued. „Perhaps we are at the eve of figuring out an answer to our energy supply for the next millennium.”

In his speech Hervé Pero, acting Director of Energy within the Directorate-General for Research at the European Commission, sketched the European Roadmap to Fusion Energy. A roadmap that fully relies on the success of ITER: „If ITER fails”, Pero stressed during a question-and-answer session, „this will be the end to fusion! We need to make ITER a success!”

The 27th edition of the SOFT conference with its large number of participants, a grand total of 636 posters, 17 invited talks and 54 oral presentations once more highlighted the increasing interest in the development of fusion energy. For Organizer Vincent Massaut, Head of the Belgium Fusion Research Centre SCK-CEN in Mol, it was encouraging to see so many young faces in the corridors discussing their posters. Massaut also noted a new trend at SOFT. „Although the research and development for ITER going on all around the world clearly remains the focus of discussion, I think we here witnessed the opening of a new chapter in the book on fusion research: a chapter that covers the next steps after ITER, a DEMO reactor and a fusion power plant”.
 
„Towards a fusion power plant” was also the title of a panel discussion on Tuesday morning, moderated by BBC presenter David Shukman. The panel was made up with representatives from the fusion community — „the dreamers”, as Shukman called them and representatives from the energy industry — „the realists”. José A. Tagle, Head of the Technology Innovation Department at Spain’s largest energy group, said that „there is no alternative to fusion energy in terms of pollution, an ever-growing population and poverty”.

As to whether fusion was showing on the energy landscape, Areva Vice President Philippe Garderet replied that yes, fusion was on their radar screens, but that it was not yet showing up on the energy market. „We are still far from any serious market debate”, Garderet said. „We observe with interest the transition from prototyping to industrial manufacturing.”

Roberto Adinolfi, CEO of the Italian consortium Ansaldo Nucleare, added. „With ITER the market is clearly emerging, but it is still far away from [being on] an industrial scale.” 

The panel came to the conclusion that both for the sound development of fusion energy and for the industry to seriously buy in, the design and planning for a DEMO reactor had better start sooner than later.
Click here to read the opening speech of Minister Jean-Claude Marcourt.

Click here to see the photos of the SOFT opening ceremony.

Click here for more impressions from the 27th SOFT conference.




In Liège, a royal visit to the ITER stand

On Monday, 24 September, the 27th „Symposium on Fusion Technology” opened its doors in Liège, in the presence of His Royal Highness Prince Philippe of Belgium.

The „SOFT” conference is an important gauge for measuring the progress being made in the development of fusion energy. In its last edition in 2010, it attracted more than 1,200 participants, beating its own record — thus showing the increasing interest in the field.

As he visited the ITER stand, Prince Philippe expressed a strong interest in the project which was presented to him by ITER Director-General Osamu Motojima and Director of the Energy Directorate at the European Commission Hervé Pero.

ITER, as the spearhead approach to fusion energy, will be once more in the centre of the discussion in Liège. the ITER Director-General will be amongst the key-note speakers summarizing the status of the project, followed by representatives from various departments reporting on the latest developments in key design issues.

In two special satellite meetings the ITER Vacuum Team will present the ITER approach to vacuum quality and standards.

And, last but not least…don’t miss a visit to us at the ITER stand to watch the latest videos showing the manufacturing progress around the world and  of course— to get your free tokamak doughnut! 

Symposium on Fusion Technology (SOFT)
24 — 28 September 2012
Palais des Congrès
Esplanade de l’Europe 2
4020 Liège
Belgium


Vacuum Handbook recognized well beyond ITER

Everything you’ve always wanted to know about ITER „vacuum requirements” is to be found in a 44-page document (with an added 250 pages of appendixes) called the Vacuum Handbook.

The Vacuum Handbook was approved at project level in 2009 and forms part of the ITER Project Requirements and, as such, is a mandatory document to be followed by the ITER Organization, Domestic Agencies and Suppliers of vacuum equipment to the project.

„Vacuum requirements” encompass the whole set of requirements that must be observed when designing, manufacturing, installing and testing components destined to operate in a vacuum environment.

The Vacuum Handbook, whose first edition was issued in June 2009, is „both general and specific” says Liam Worth, of the ITER Vacuum Section and one of the main contributors to the document. „The Handbook contains a general background on the vacuum environment with the mandatory requirements pertaining to each of the ITER vacuum systems with the 21 appendices providing the guidelines to achieve conformity with those requirements.”

The Handbook’s requirements should be clearly stated in all Procurement Arrangement documentation and are expected to filter down the Suppliers.

Three years into its existence, the Vacuum Handbook „has been very well adopted,” says Liam. „Its value can be judged by the number of deviations from the original edition. As of today, we have granted only one…”

The value of the document is now recognized well beyond the ITER and fusion world. „Non-fusion industries have asked us for copies. And of course, we’re happy to give them.”

„The Handbook”, says Liam, „recapitulates all our knowledge and know-how into one coherent document. All in all, this amounts to about one hundred years of experience.”

At the coming 27th Symposium on Fusion Technology (SOFT) in Liège, (Belgium) two satellite meetings on the Vacuum Handbook will be held — an opportunity to „explain the rationale behind the requirements, provide some training and reach, beyond ITER and the ITER Domestic Agencies, the wider fusion community as well as industrialists.”


At International Forum, fusion rhymes with innovation

One Prime Minister (Italy’s Mario Monti); one former French President (Valéry Giscard d’Estaing); a US Supreme Court Justice (Stephen Breyer); a European Commissioner (Michel Barnier); several World Bank executives; high-profile university professors; a number of international CEOs; the Director-General of ITER … all were gathered in Aix-en-Provence last weekend to participate in the Rencontres Économiques, an international forum aiming to promote a better understanding of global economic challenges and „to reflect on the actions that will influence the future of human society.”

One of the main themes discussed this year: Innovation. What creates favourable conditions for innovation? Which innovations are most likely to succeed? Can society impulse innovation? The ITER project, which Director-General Osamu Motojima presented as „innovation itself,” was quite naturally the focus of strong interest from the participants.

As explained in the documentation distributed to the audience, fusion research in general and ITER in particular have been a major booster for innovation. The complexity of the ITER design has already pushed a whole range of leading-edge technologies to new limits. Time and again, innovative technological solutions have been developed to address specific ITER challenges, solutions that have found applications well beyond the bounds of fusion technology.

There are already numerous examples of fusion spin-offs that are providing concrete solutions to real and current problems.
Already, superconductor R&D has led to significant spin-offs in Magnetic Resonance Imaging; diagnostics developed for the study of plasma turbulence have found applications in advanced satellite thrusters; innovative techniques to bond carbon-fibre composites originally developed for tokamaks are now used in aerospace… even the clothing industry has benefitted from fusion spin-offs: the electronic looms that produce high added-value cloth and fabrics from computer-generated design owe much of their performance and reliability to the very micro-actuators that were developed for tokamak components.

One of the most valuable innovations of ITER however, does not belong to the realm of science or technology. The collaboration between 34 nations in pursuit of one goal, Director-General Motojima stressed, „is creating a new culture standard.” The ITER project is a strong testimony to human creativity and resourcefulness; it demonstrates daily that nations—when confronted with a global challenge—can pull together to establish a completely new model for international cooperation.

Another brochure about fusion spin-offs here


The next six months will be crucial

There are good reasons why the European Union supports, and will continue to support, ITER.

ITER is a major international project. It opens long-term scientific, technological and industrial opportunities, and it is in line with the European energy policy defined in the Energy Roadmap 2050 that calls for a low-carbon, competitive economy by 2050 and a 60 percent reduction of CO2 emissions in the power sector by 2030.

Due to the many challenges of fusion energy—just look at the size of the investment in ITER—this is a project that could only be attempted at an international level.

However, let’s always remember that fusion technology remains in competition with other technological approaches for energy generation. We therefore need to implement and stop losing time. We must bear in mind that we have been entrusted with public funds, which gives us an enormous responsibility towards the citizens within the ITER Members.

Since the European Union has agreed to earmark funds for ITER through 2020 at the level of EUR 6.6 billion (of which EUR 2.3 billion is for 2012-2013), we have concerns regarding the schedule slippages that have occurred over the past several months. Slippages do not contribute to the positive image of the project; they also risk undermining the political support for ITER if they are not corrected soon. The next six months will therefore be crucial.

Corrective actions on the schedule slippages, as they were proposed by the management of the ITER Organization during this week’s meeting of the Management Advisory Committee (MAC), show the right approach. There is a consensus among all ITER Members on the need to preserve the momentum of the project. It is also crucial to soon complete the design of the vacuum vessel and also to deliver the final set of design data for the conclusion of the Tokamak Complex construction contract.

The European Union will, along with the MAC, closely monitor the implementation of all actions during the next weeks, which are critical in order to confirm the success of the proposed recovery plan.

Hervé Pero is acting Director of Energy within the Directorate General for Research at the European Commission.



The next six months will be crucial

There are good reasons why the European Union supports, and will continue to support, ITER.

ITER is a major international project. It opens long-term scientific, technological and industrial opportunities, and it is in line with the European energy policy defined in the Energy Roadmap 2050 that calls for a low-carbon, competitive economy by 2050 and a 60 percent reduction of CO2 emissions in the power sector by 2030.

Due to the many challenges of fusion energy—just look at the size of the investment in ITER—this is a project that could only be attempted at an international level.

However, let’s always remember that fusion technology remains in competition with other technological approaches for energy generation. We therefore need to implement and stop losing time. We must bear in mind that we have been entrusted with public funds, which gives us an enormous responsibility towards the citizens within the ITER Members.

Since the European Union has agreed to earmark funds for ITER through 2020 at the level of EUR 6.6 billion (of which EUR 2.3 billion is for 2012-2013), we have concerns regarding the schedule slippages that have occurred over the past several months. Slippages do not contribute to the positive image of the project; they also risk undermining the political support for ITER if they are not corrected soon. The next six months will therefore be crucial.

Corrective actions on the schedule slippages, as they were proposed by the management of the ITER Organization during this week’s meeting of the Management Advisory Committee (MAC), show the right approach. There is a consensus among all ITER Members on the need to preserve the momentum of the project. It is also crucial to soon complete the design of the vacuum vessel and also to deliver the final set of design data for the conclusion of the Tokamak Complex construction contract.

The European Union will, along with the MAC, closely monitor the implementation of all actions during the next weeks, which are critical in order to confirm the success of the proposed recovery plan.

Hervé Pero is acting Director of Energy within the Directorate General for Research at the European Commission.