At the ITER headquarters in Cadarache, France, where the world's largest fusion reactor experiment is being constructed to demonstrate fusion's commercial viability, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano received a briefing on the project's progress on Friday, 6 July 2012.
The briefing included a tour of the on-going construction site, including the poloidal field coils winding facility, the tokamak pit and the anti-seismic pads. The IAEA has supported ITER since its inception in 1985 as a collaborative research project between the European Union, Japan, the former Soviet Union and the United States.
New Source of Energy
Fusion is the process that powers the stars and occurs when atoms are heated until they fuse into new elements, releasing large amounts of energy. Fusion requires no fossil fuels, emits no greenhouse gases and generates no long-lived nuclear waste. Fusion power promises to be an abundant, safe and environmentally sustainable energy source.
A detailed explanation of the ITER project and photos of the IAEA Director General's tour are available on the ITER Website.
Nuclear Power After Fukushima
The future of energy production was also the topic of a session of the Les Rencontres Économiques d'Aix-en-Provence 2012, in which the Director General participated on Saturday, 7 July 2012. The session considered the global changes in energy use and production, especially since the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in March 2011.
The Director General said that the Fukushima accident, the most severe accident since Chernobyl, caused deep public anxiety and damaged confidence in nuclear power. In contrast to the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident, nuclear power plant construction is continuing, a trend the Director General attributed to the increasing global demand for energy, as well as concerns about climate change, volatile fossil fuel prices and security of energy supply.
"Fukushima was a wake-up call for all countries with nuclear power and governments have responded with a new focus on nuclear safety," said Director General Amano. He noted that the goal of the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety, adopted by the IAEA Member States in September 2011, is to "make nuclear power as safe as humanly possible by doing everything to prevent a severe accident", which includes undertaking nuclear power plants stress tests to assess how well plants are likely to withstand severe natural hazards, including earthquakes and tsunamis.
Following the Fukushima nuclear accident, the Director General said that new defensive structures are being built at many nuclear facilities throughout the world and backup electrical power sources are being given better protection. In addition, measures are being taken to assure that water is available for cooling even under severe accident conditions, while emergency preparedness and response capabilities are being strengthened. The IAEA's programme of peer reviews - under which multinational expert teams led by the Agency assess the operational safety of a country's nuclear power reactors, the effectiveness of its nuclear regulators, or its emergency preparedness - has also been significantly strengthened.
Key Lesson Learned
The Director General emphasized that one of the internationally recognized lessons of the Fukushima Daiichi accident was "the vital importance of an effective, independent nuclear regulatory body." He noted that the IAEA is helping countries to review their regulatory effectiveness and make changes where necessary.
The Director General said that "the global response to the Fukushima Daiichi accident reflects a deeper realization by governments that nuclear safety transcends borders and that more effective international cooperation is vital. The IAEA will play the leading role in shaping a safer nuclear future throughout the world."
ITER, initially named the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, is a fusion research "mega-project" supported by China, the European Union, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the United States.
Les Rencontres Économiques d'Aix-en-Provence
Created in 2001, the Rencontres Économiques, or economic meetings, are an annual three-day event held in Aix-en-Provence, France, to stimulate economic debate among international academics, politicians, business leaders and students to contribute to a better understanding of economic issues and determine the actions that will influence the future of society and business.