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International Fusion Energy Gathering Opens


International collaboration is vital in developing and deploying fusion technology and the IAEA will continue to facilitate and work together with countries, the emerging fusion industry and private partners in advancing fusion energy progress, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi told a virtual audience at the opening of the 28th International Fusion Energy Conference (FEC 2020).

Gathering almost 4,000 participants from around the world, this year’s week-long conference is exploring key physics and technology issues as well as innovative concepts of direct relevance to the use of nuclear fusion as a future source of energy. The FEC 2020 Conference, which was originally due to take place in 2020, was postponed to this year because of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Completely online, the conference consists of an opening session, overview sessions, technical sessions with contributed papers, summary sessions, daily poster sessions and a closing session. The winner of the 2020 Nuclear Fusion Award was revealed (see below) during the official opening session. Registration to attend the conference is still open.

“After decades of intensive research, scientists and engineers have contributed and witnessed significant steps towards making fusion energy a reality,” said Grossi, speaking during the FEC 2020’s opening ceremony, describing how since its first iteration in 1961, the IAEA’s Fusion Energy Conference had become the foremost global platform for discussing advances in fusion energy research.

Touching on all of the ways the Agency has been involved in fusion, the IAEA Director General invited countries sponsoring fusion programmes, the fusion industry and private partners to support and jointly participate in an IAEA coordinated feasibility study. The study will encompass the full scope of fusion pilot plant criteria and produce a set of technology-neutral requirements for the safe, secure and economically sound deployment of future fusion reactors.

European Union Commissioner for Energy, Kadri Simson, highlighted the EU’s 2050 climate-neutrality ambitions as a means to confront climate change, and described the bloc’s commitment to ITER as a scientific investment that could support climate goals. “Fusion may not be the energy source of tomorrow, but it may well be a solution for the second half of this century,” she said.

ITER is the world’s largest fusion experiment where 35 nations are collaborating to build the world's largest magnetic fusion device that has been designed to prove the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale and carbon-free source of energy, based on the same principle that powers our sun and stars. The scientific facility is co-hosting the conference. During the opening session, ITER Director General Bernard Bigot said: “The pandemic has only delayed us in small ways, it has not stopped us in any way from pursuing provision for fusion as a future source of clean, safe and virtually unlimited base-load power generation for all of humankind.”

François Jacq, Chairman of the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) and French High Representative for the ITER project, echoed messages on climate action and fusion’s potential role in post-2050 energy mix. He described how the CEA has been involved in fusion development, both in magnetic and inertial fusion confinement research, and acknowledged the progress being made in ITER despite COVID-19.

Representing the United States of America, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson said fusion warrants far greater support than what has been provided to date. She said a breakthrough in fusion research would be a major step in enabling a clean energy future, adding that “the policy decisions and research investments we make now could well enable those key advances to come much sooner.”

A platform for fusion globally

A highlight of this year’s conference is the release of the upgraded Fusion Device Information System (FusDIS). Developed and maintained by the IAEA, FusDIS is an invaluable tool for fusion researchers, compiling information from experimental fusion facilities around the world.

Featuring new dashboards, the upgraded FusDIS includes 119 experimental fusion devices operating, under construction or being planned around the world and technical data on many of them. It also includes country and organization statistics on fusion research and development.

In addition to FEC 2020’s scientific sessions, e-posters and exhibitions, side events will cover IAEA Learning Resources in Fusion: Educating the Next Generation of Fusion Experts, Women in Fusion, and an event Celebrating 60 Years of Fusion Energy Conferences. Register for the conference to attend these side events.

A ‘Fusion Energy’ edition of the quarterly IAEA Bulletin was also launched for the conference with articles explaining fusion, its development, challenges, and IAEA involvement. The edition includes opinion and Q&A pieces from external fusion experts.

Recognising excellence

While the conference is organized every two years, every year the IAEA celebrates excellence in its journal, Nuclear Fusion, through the Nuclear Fusion Award — for authors whose papers, published two years prior, have made a significant impact on the field of fusion research.

At FEC 2020, Director General Grossi congratulated 2020 winner Christian Theiler of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) for his paper ‘Results from recent detachment experiments in alternative divertor configurations on TCV’ and 2019 winner Nathan Howard of Massachusetts Institute of Technology had won the Nuclear Fusion Award for his paper ‘Multi-scale gyrokinetic simulation of tokamak plasmas: enhanced heat loss due to cross-scale coupling of plasma turbulence’.

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