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Fusion Research in Southeast Asia: IAEA and ITER Support School in Thailand


Participants of the 6th ASEAN School on Plasma and Nuclear Fusion and SOKENDAI Winter School during one of the remote experiments conducted on the educational tokamak GOLEM located at the Czech Technical University, Prague. (Photo: M. Barbarino/IAEA)

Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand – ITER science and technology was one of the topics that more than 80 students from across Southeast Asia learnt about at the sixth ASEAN School on Plasma and Nuclear Fusion and SOKENDAI Winter School (ASPNF 2020) in Thailand last month.

The school, which was co-supported by the IAEA and ITER and co-organized by the SOKENDAI University, the Thailand Institute of Nuclear Technology (TINT) and the Walailak University, is part of Thailand’s initiative to intensify its fusion research programme in the face of a rapidly growing energy demand and concerns for the environment.

“The number of participants has grown from 20 in the first year to around 80 in the last few years, with now 40% of students coming from Thailand and 60% from other ASEAN countries,” said Somsak Dangtip, Manager at the TINT’s Advanced Nuclear Technology Excellence Center, and one of school’s directors.” The school is also popular among female participants with an average of 35% female representation.”

The school aims to raise the awareness of nuclear fusion research in Southeast Asian countries and promoting interaction between young talents and leading researchers from around the world.

“The objective is to introduce plasma physics and fusion technology to students from South East Asia. This is a field currently under development in their countries,” explained Rémy Guirlet, Senior Researcher at the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission’ (CEA) fusion research institute, and lecturer since the school’s inception. “The school programme combines traditional lectures and Q&A sessions with practical sessions, where the students apply their newly acquired knowledge to illustrative situations.”

During the week-long school from 27 to 31 January, students studied plasma heating and diagnostics, plasma turbulence, energy and particle transport in tokamak devices, and received updates on international and domestic fusion research programmes. In addition, two special sessions gave students the opportunity to carry out remote experiments on the educational Czech GOLEM tokamak which can be entirely operated from distance, interpret their results and present their findings to their peers.

“It’s a pleasure to see so many young dedicated and motivated students willing to become the next physicists and engineers ready to operate fusion devices, and wanting to contribute to solving the pressing global need for energy,” said School lecturer, Jean-Marie Noterdaeme, who was also the former Group Head at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics and former Head of the Nuclear Fusion Research Group at Ghent University in Belgium.

Originally established in 2015 with the support of the CEA, the Japanese National Institute for Fusion Science and the Institute of Plasma Physics Chinese Academy of Sciences (ASIPP), the school is led by a group of international experts and has successfully trained over 300 undergraduate and graduate students from ASEAN countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam in specialized education on plasma physics and nuclear fusion technology. 

Fusion research centre in Thailand

15 July 2018 – In the presence of Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, B. Wan (director of ASIPP) and B. Lerthirunwong (Chairman of the TINT Board of Directors) proceed with the handing over of the HT-6M tokamak (pictured in the background). (Photo: ASIPP, China)

In 2018, cooperation broadened beyond the school, when ASIPP donated its HT-6M tokamak to TINT and committed to supporting in the installation, operation and development of related technologies as well as in the establishment of Thailand’s own fusion research centre.

Operating from 1984 to 2002, HT-6M tokamak made a great contribution to China's fusion development, and it will now be one of the main pillars in Thailand fusion roadmap, together with the Plasma Focus device at TINT and the ongoing programme on research and human resource development in plasma physics and nuclear fusion engineering carried out by TINT’s Center for Plasma and Nuclear Fusion Technology.

“Construction of the building for our new Thailand Tokamak, which we renamed TT-1, will be supported by the Royal Thai Government. Whereas, the Electricity Generation Authority of Thailand will bear the costs necessary for revamping its sub-systems like power supply, diagnostic, plasma control system, and vacuum pumps. The installation of TT-1 at TINT’s headquarter is expected to be completed around 2023,” explained Thawatchai Onjun, TINT’s Deputy Executive Director.

Enhanced cooperation with ITER

Furthermore, Thailand through TINT signed a cooperation agreement with ITER Organization. The agreement aims to promote the public understanding and acceptance of fusion energy and provide courses and lectures to young students and scientists in Thailand as well as facilitate visits to ITER by TINT scientists, young experts and students.

“The ITER Director General gives his full support to the school by sharing the latest developments on ITER as well as the background and rationale of its advanced technology, and also the projection of ITER’s plasma performance,” said Jean Jacquinot, Senior Adviser to ITER Organization Director General, and one of the lecturers at the school.

The years ahead will be central to prove that nuclear fusion can have an important role to play in the world’s future energy mix. This goal can only be achieved through maintaining and expanding a trained community of educated scientists and engineers ready to operate ITER and future fusion power reactors.

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