Opening Address at 26th IAEA Fusion Energy Conference

Kyoto, Japan

(As prepared for delivery)

Good morning, Mr Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am very pleased to welcome you all to the 26th IAEA Fusion Energy Conference. 

I am very grateful to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, and the National Institute for Fusion Science, for hosting this event.

This is the fourth time that Japan has done so.

The National Institute for Quantum and Radiological Science and Technology, and the National Institute for Fusion Science, are at the forefront of research on fusion as a clean and safe source of energy.

They are actively supported by leading Japanese universities and major companies. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The IAEA has started celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. Nuclear fusion has been on our agenda since the beginning and our first fusion energy conference took place in Salzburg, Austria, in 1961.

As the Agency begins its seventh decade, one of the key issues facing all of our 168 Member States is how to secure sufficient energy to power economic growth, while working to mitigate – and ideally reverse – the effects of climate change.

Energy is the engine of development and demand for energy is growing steadily. In order to meet that growing demand, we must make the best use of all the sources of energy at our disposal. 

Fossil fuels will continue to play an important role for many years to come. The use of renewables such as wind and solar energy is growing.

The use of nuclear power, one of the lowest-carbon technologies for generating electricity, will also continue to grow.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Considerable research is underway in all areas of energy production and we can expect to see many exciting developments in the coming decades.

One of the most exciting of these is nuclear fusion.

As I am sure you are aware, the IAEA played the role of godparent to the ITER project, which is building the world's largest experimental nuclear fusion reactor at Cadarache in the south of France.

ITER grew from an idea floated at the 1985 Summit in Geneva between U.S. President Reagan and Soviet President Gorbachev. 

The ITER International Fusion Energy Organization was established in October 2007 with Agency support.

ITER Members represent about half of the population of the world and about two-thirds of the world economy. The Agency is repository of the ITER Agreement.

I had an opportunity to visit the ITER site last month and was very impressed at how much progress has been made.

The sheer scale of the project is astonishing, with huge structures, and components so large that they can only be assembled on site.

I also had a chance to visit the Wendelstein 7-X facility, an experimental fusion reactor being developed by the Max Planck Institute in Greifswald, Germany.

It was like walking into a science fiction movie. I saw unique, remarkably shaped components and materials of a type I have never seen before.

At the other end of the world, and on a much smaller scale, researchers at the Technology Institute of Costa Rica announced the first discharge of high temperature plasma in Latin America in June. I visited that facility in January. Again, it was very impressive.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The IAEA serves the worldwide fusion and plasma physics community by publishing the leading scientific journal in the field, and organising conferences like this one every two years – the largest in the field of nuclear fusion.

The Agency is leading international efforts to coordinate research in fusion technology, involving nuclear physicists, material scientists, nuclear data specialists, metallurgists and plasma experts, among others.

A lot exciting research is being done in different countries and the focus is gradually shifting from pure research to technology, material science and engineering.

We have supported these efforts by establishing a series of what we call DEMO programme workshops.

Increasing attention is also being paid to aspects such as safety, security and safeguards, all of which are of keen interest to the IAEA.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Fusion holds the promise of an inexhaustible, clean and safe source of energy – one of the dreams of humankind.

To make fusion energy production a reality, enormous scientific and technical challenges still need to be overcome.

But I have faith in the ingenuity of human beings and the ability of brilliant scientists and engineers to overcome even the most daunting technological hurdles.

In the coming years, we will see increased efforts to bring fusion energy on an industrial, power-plant scale within our reach. I am confident that they will be successful.

The IAEA is proud to have played an important role in the history of nuclear fusion research. We will continue to work closely with all of you towards the goal of controlling thermonuclear fusion for energy production.

I wish you very productive discussions in the next few days.

Thank you.