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IAEA Director General's Statement at the 28th IAEA Fusion Energy Conference (FEC 2020)

Vienna, Austria

(As prepared for delivery)

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you today to the 28th IAEA Fusion Energy Conference. The conference this year has attracted about 3,000 participants from all over the world and is for the first time open to the public. The first Fusion Energy Conference was held in 1961. Since then, it has helped the field of nuclear fusion, becoming the main platform for discussing key physics and technology issues as well as innovative concepts directly relevant to the use of nuclear fusion as a future energy source.

Let me start by congratulating the ITER Organization lead by Mr Bernard Bigot on the progress with ITER construction.

One year ago, the fusion community celebrated a historical moment: the start of ITER assembly after more than 10 years of complex construction phases involving site preparation, design and manufacturing of the key systems and components. ITER is proceeding at a steady pace and is a critical step towards the goal of harnessing fusion energy. Significant strides forward will be taken in the next five years, and continuing on to 2035, when ITER will achieve its ultimate goal: to demonstrate the feasibility of fusion energy.

Another success was the construction and assembly of the JT-60SA tokamak in Japan, which was completed in March 2020. This project started in 2007 as a collaboration between Japan and Europe, and presently JT-60SA is the largest built tokamak in the world. It will soon begin addressing key physics and engineering issues for ITER and the Demonstration Fusion Power Plant (DEMO).

I also would like to congratulate Eurofusion and the UK Atomic Energy Authority for the progress made in the new experimental campaigns with the European tokamak JET.

Starting in just a few months, the JET experimental campaign with Deuterium and Tritium will be a crucial source of experimental data, which will provide a unique physics and technology basis for ITER’s operation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Five decades ago, an international panel of leading scientists recommended the establishment of the International Fusion Research Council within the framework of the IAEA with the primary purpose to promote international cooperation in controlled fusion research and its applications. Since its creation in 1971 the International Fusion Research Council acts as advisory body on these matters.

The International Fusion Research Council, as well the Standing Advisory Group on Nuclear Energy in the IAEA, provide advice for a range of key activities that the IAEA conducts to strengthen international cooperation on fusion research and to contribute to enhancing the present state-of-the-art. These activities include the development of science and technologies around ITER, facilitating the coordination of the global effort for the development of future fusion power plants, and in recent years working on the production of guidelines and reference documents being used by the fusion community.

Addressing matters on technology and infrastructure development and deployment — including qualification of structures, systems, and components and their supply chains, regulatory framework, licensing, nuclear safety, nuclear waste management, materials control; as well as human resources development and management, nuclear liability issues and economic aspects associated with the future deployment of nuclear fusion facilities — cut across all the IAEA’s technical departments. Requirements, standards and good practices relevant to the establishment of the necessary infrastructure for future nuclear fusion energy activities are developed under a strong inter-departmental collaboration and coordination.

We all know that the concepts and designs of innovative technologies, including fusion reactors, are technologically diverse. Therefore, the IAEA is working on the establishment of a technology-neutral framework for safety to help harmonize international approaches on the basis of existing IAEA safety standards. Although fusion reactors are inherently safe, the ultimate goal when it comes to regulation remains the same: ensuring the protection of people and the environment by minimizing the risks of radioactive releases under normal operation and accident conditions.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

After decades of intensive research, scientists and engineers have contributed and witnessed significant steps towards making fusion energy a reality. Nowadays, while publicly funded experiments continue to progress, research in fusion science and technology is also being conducted in the private sector. The increased publicly and privately funded research and development, including emerging examples of public-private partnerships, demonstrate growing trust in fusion as a promising option to provide a sustainable, worldwide supply of energy for centuries to come.

International collaboration is vital in developing and deploying technologies and the IAEA will continue to facilitate and work together with our Member States, emerging fusion industry and the increasing number of private partners for the steps to come.

With several countries and private sector currently engaged in their individual preliminary designs of fusion energy pilot plants, the IAEA stands ready to offer a feasibility study that encompasses 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. I, therefore, invite Member States sponsoring fusion programmes, the emerging fusion industry and the increasing number of private partners to support and jointly participate in such an international endeavour, leading to the best future options for fusion energy. We are going to be actively consulting with all stakeholders.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Over the last years, we have seen fusion advancing quicker than ever before, opening new job opportunities and inspiring career horizons. Fusion could offer an exciting career path for young professionals and give them the chance to be a part of achieving significant milestones and breakthroughs in this field. Ensuring a talent pipeline is critically important. The IAEA is committed to achieving gender equality in nuclear sciences and applications through ongoing efforts to increase the representation of women in this field. A virtual side event on “Women in Fusion” will feature female fusion experts on Wednesday.

The IAEA Fusion Portal and the Fusion Device Information System (FusDIS) developed and maintained by the IAEA are valuable tools for you to have information on the world’s fusion devices at your fingertips. The upgraded System which has been launched today includes now 119 experimental fusion facilities/devices operating, under construction or being planned in 27 Member States, as well as technical data of these facilities and country statistics. Let me assure you that the IAEA will continue fostering international collaboration and coordination to help close the existing gaps in physics, technology and regulation and move forward in developing the peaceful use of fusion energy, working together with all sectors of the fusion community.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you probably know, I strongly believe that climate change mitigation remains a key potential driver for the use of nuclear power. Now that the stage has been set and we all know the common challenge is to decarbonize and to do it fast, we need all viable technologies and fusion power holds the promise of providing us with infinite, clean and safe energy.

Let’s continue to work together towards this grand engineering challenge of the 21st century: achieving energy production from nuclear fusion.

Thank you for your attention.

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