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Fusion Energy Conference 2018 Reviews Status of Research and Technology to Fusion Power

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The conference kicked-off with the auspicious lighting of a lamp to illuminate the way to new energy. (From left to right) M. Venkatesh, Director of Physical and Chemical Sciences, IAEA; S. Deshpande, Director of ITER-India; R.B. Grover, Director of Homi Bhabha National Institute; N.K. Prinja, Technology Director of Wood Group; P.A. Child, Deputy Director-General for Research and Innovation at the European Commission; D. Ridikas, Head of the Physics Section, IAEA; and S.M. Gonzalez de Vicente, Nuclear Fusion Physicist, IAEA.

Over 700 representatives from 39 IAEA Member States and 4 international organizations convened at the 27th IAEA Fusion Energy Conference (FEC 2018) in Ahmedabad, India, last week to discuss key physics and technology issues as well as innovative concepts related to nuclear fusion as a future source of energy.

Fusion energy has existed for billions of years in the Sun, but its reproduction on Earth in a controlled and durable manner remains a challenge. Unlike fission, where atoms are split to produce energy, in fusion two lighter nuclei are joined together to make a heavier nucleus, while energy is released.

The over 100 plenary talks and 700 posters by physicists and engineers from around the world  reviewed the latest developments in nuclear fusion research and engineering to address some of the challenges, such as the technological feasibility of fusion power plants and economic considerations related to the introduction of fusion energy, and considered these results together with the requirements for a fusion device that can generate net electrical power, called DEMO. The IAEA is coordinating international cooperation in this area.

The complete programme and book of abstracts is available here.

Opening Session

Meera Venkatesh, Director of the IAEA’s Division of Physical and Chemical Sciences, opened the first ever FEC hosted by India, which through the Institute for Plasma Research (IPR), is one of the 35 nations contributing to the fabrication of the world’s largest experimental fusion reactor ­– ITER.

“Innovations and enormous work are doubtlessly needed to bring us closer to realising an industrial nuclear fusion power-plant, and there is an increasingly important role for the IAEA to play as fusion research moves to the technological innovation, testing and prototype stages. We look forward to the day that fusion energy becomes a commercial reality,” she said.

With the progress and experience of ITER, increasing attention needs to be paid to important areas such as nuclear engineering, safety and radiological protection as well as security. “The IAEA is preparing to take the necessary role to support the efforts,” Venkatesh added.

The session continued with highlighting the importance of nuclear energy in India’s energy mix and the impact that mastering fusion energy production could eventually have. “Nuclear energy can be considered near-renewable and the near-renewable factor will increase with fusion thanks to the inexhaustible fuel resource," said R. Chidambaram, former director of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission of India.

“Considering the environmental sustainability requirements and that the total potential of hydro, solar and wind is only about one-fourth of the projected electricity requirements, nuclear must play a dominant role in India’s energy,” said Ravi B. Grover, Director of the Homi Bhabha National Institute.

The role of fusion research in the European Union, R&D policy and the importance of international collaboration in this field were the focus of a presentation by Patrick A. Child, Deputy Director-General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission. “A broad international collaboration is a specific feature of fusion research worldwide and the signature of the ITER project. The European Commission will continue to strongly support ITER and make research efforts to prepare for DEMO. We are open to new international partners in the future to work together to put fusion firmly within the future energy landscape” he said.

Components of future fusion reactors are expected to be designed and manufactured by using advanced simulation technologies and advanced manufacturing methods, said Nawal K. Prinja, Technology Director of the Wood Group, a technology vendor from the United Kingdom. “The costs will be further reduced as there will be increased harmonization of codes and standards,” he said, adding technology readiness – the ability to move from research to prototyping to industry – will be key to the realization of fusion power.

In this area, the IAEA has recently taken initial steps to facilitate the harmonization of design rules before the technology is commercialized. The Integrated Approach to Safety Classification of Mechanical Components for Fusion Applications shows how to use knowledge from the safety classification process to determine the design, quality and manufacturing requirements of mechanical components for fusion applications.

Overview, Oral and Poster Sessions

The overview sessions highlighted the progress of ITER towards first experiments, the progress of ITER-India activities, the results in support of ITER operation (e.g. plasma instabilities control, disruption avoidance) recently achieved in present nuclear fusion devices (e.g. ASDEX-Upgrade, DIII-D, JET) the advances in worldwide nuclear fusion research (e.g. ADITYA, Alcator C-Mod, Globus-M2, HL-2A, LHD, MAST, NIF, NSTX, TJ-II, TCV and WEST), the results towards establishing the scientific basis for future fusion reactors (e.g. CFETR, DEMO, JT-60SA and K-DEMO), and the progress in engineering design activities of DEMO-oriented test facilities in which heat and power exhaust systems for future fusion reactors can be developed (e.g. DTT), and candidate materials can be qualified (e.g. IFMIF-DONES, and IFMIF-LIPAC).

The oral and poster sessions highlighted developments across fusion research with an emphasis on physics input to critical elements of the ITER’s design and the preparation of ITER’s operation, and also addressed physics and engineering issues for a future DEMO design.

The contributions provided evidence of the quality of the theoretical, experimental, technological and materials developments conducted worldwide and of the significant progress that has been achieved in the performance of the present reactors and their heat exhaust systems. Progress on the two main fusion reactor layouts – tokamaks and stellarators – were presented, including the high-performance plasma operation at W7-X, which has recently achieved the highest stellarator fusion triple product: the density, confinement time and plasma temperature used by researchers to measure the performance of a fusion plasma. World records in the continuous operation of tokamaks, EAST and K-STAR, were also presented.

The most important results as well as the overview and summary papers from this conference will be published in Nuclear Fusion.

Nuclear Fusion Award

Since 2006, one highlight of the FEC is the celebration of excellence in research with the Nuclear Fusion Award, granted each year by the IAEA's journal, Nuclear Fusion, and presented at the conference. The winner for 2018 was Arne Kallenbach as the lead author of a critical paper which shows, among others, that heat exhaust system in machines such as ITER could have longer lifetimes thanks to a combination of exhaust control with re-fuelling of the fusion reactor.

One year after its announcement, Francois Ryter received the 2017 award, as the lead author of a landmark paper that filled the gap in the understanding of magnetic confinement plasma physics. This study can facilitate the preparation for the operation of future fusion reactors for energy production.

The FEC 2018 has been organized by the IAEA in cooperation with the Department of Atomic Energy, Government of India and the Institute for Plasma Research, at the Mahatma Mandir, Gandhinagar (Ahmedabad) Gujarat, India. More than 700 fusion enthusiasts have regularly attended the over 100 plenary talks and 700 posters presented during the six days conference. The next FEC will be held in 2020.

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