Fusion Power Associates Annual Meeting and Symposium
December 16, 2014 to December 17, 2014
Matthew ParsonsSPS Chapter:
Surrounded by fusion program managers from across the US and around the world, I was one of perhaps five people under the age of 50 in the room of about 100 attendees. The 35th Annual Meeting and Symposium of the Fusion Power Associates1 was quite a different venue from the typical physics conference. In this discipline of fusion energy research everyone is collaborating with someone else, and at the center of those collaborations are experiments funded at major national laboratories. Indeed, these projects are the “big leagues” of science research, and appropriately many of the attendees are well known throughout the community. With so many significant players from the field, how could I resist an opportunity to brush elbows with the experts?
The meeting opened on Tuesday, December 16 in Washington DC with the presentation of several awards. Amongst the awardees, one in particular stood out: Rush Holt. This Congressman from New Jersey is also a plasma physicist by both training and practice. A staunch advocate for science, education and fusion energy in particular, his award acceptance comments were no surprise. “We need fusion energy for our world’s future”, said Dr. Holt. Though the Congressman is retiring from his position on the Hill, he is excited to be taking a position as the CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His approach to science advocacy is that public appreciation of science is “not just public understanding of science… [the public] should understand the value of it”.
The opening keynote address was given by Steven Cowley, Director of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in England, who talked about the European program for developing commercial fusion energy. The European roadmap to fusion energy focuses on three generations of devices to get fusion power to the grid by 2050. The first step is ITER2, a multinational collaboration currently building the world’s largest fusion device. The members of the ITER project are China, the European Union, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the United States. The second stage is a demonstration reactor, which includes the technology necessary to extract energy for the production of electricity. The third stage is a commercial reactor connected to the grid. The Culham Centre is also in the process of planning a very unique experimental campaign for 2017. The Joint European Torus will be the first device in over a decade to operate with the high fusion power fuel mixture of deuterium and tritium, and will likely be the only one to do so before ITER begins operations. This campaign is of critical importance to the entire field of fusion research.
Later in the morning we heard from the US ITER3 Project Manager, Ned Sauthoff, about current efforts here at home. With the US being responsible for the completion of the device’s central solenoid, the world’s most powerful pulsed superconducting magnet, custom tooling stations have been built and set up to begin piecing together this component. Dr. Sauthoff was excited to include in his report not just an update on what we are doing, but also an update on what we have actually delivered. The first shipment of equipment to the ITER site in Cadarache, France was recently made, containing steady-state electrical network equipment such as transformers.
During the short break between the morning sessions, I was excited to introduce myself to Ned Sauthoff and the Director of Communication at ITER, Michel Claessens. When I first began working on my Fulbright application last April, Dr. Sauthoff was the one who put me in contact with ITER to help me get started putting a project together. I have also been in touch with Dr. Claessens a fair bit, since a large part of the Fulbright mission is to engage with the community and a great way to do that is through the types of outreach activities that the communication group organizes.
The afternoon session began with presentations on magnetic fusion programs from around the world, the first being Korea. The Korean program has two main components, the Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) device and an ITER Korea / KDEMO office. In regard to the latter, Korea has perhaps the most ambitious program in the world. Its demonstration commercial reactor (KDEMO) is in fact already being designed and the technology being developed in earnest. Gyung-Su Lee, the representative from Korea, says that the approach is “aggressive… but we are not crazy.” In fact, what it has already accomplished with KSTAR has been quite astounding. In addition to some of the longest pulse plasmas ever generated (on the order of 40s in a high-confinement mode), the collaborative efforts themselves have been impressive. With many countries contributing, a major challenge has simply been the communication between scientists working together. But this challenge is one of the reasons that Korea is so engaged in promoting collaboration on KSTAR; if scientists can learn to work together now, when ITER begins operating they won’t have to start from scratch. Dr. Lee’s enthusiasm for what he is doing was very contagious!
Across the sea over in China, first drafts of a plan for a Chinese Fusion Engineering Test Reactor (CFETR) had just been completed within the past few weeks. Collaboration on ITER remains on the agenda through 2045, but the development of CFETR will be done in parallel. The group hopes to begin construction of this reactor around 2020, completing the reactor by 2030 for 200 MW power production, to be followed by an upgrade to 1 GW around 2040. In the 2050-2060 time range, they hope to have a prototype fusion power plant demonstrating the ability to generate electricity for the grid. The reactors would be either steady-state or long-pulse with a high duty cycle.
Japan has a program not dissimilar from what has already been discussed, making use of an existing device at home, collaborating heavily on ITER and then continuing soon after to a power plant. Its main experimental device, JT-60, is currently being upgraded to add superconducting magnets. This JT-60SA will begin running in 2019 to be utilized at least until ITER is operating, and afterwards Japan intends to develop a DEMO reactor and finally a commercial power plant reactor. The JT-60SA upgrade is being completed with the assistance of Europe, in addition to an International Fusion Materials Irradiation Facility for testing materials to be used as first-wall materials in the later stage devices. Japan also intends to build an International Fusion Energy Research Center for advanced computing capabilities. The DEMO reactor is anticipated to be operational in the mid 2040’s, and to have a combination of input from industry, universities, academic societies and international collaboration.
These international presentations were then followed by three from the US domestic program, highlighting work at major facilities in the US. The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) is involved in preparing for ITER and operates the National Spherical Torus Experiment. The lab also collaborates heavily with the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator in Germany, which is expected to begin operation this year. General Atomics operates the DIII-D tokamak for the domestic fusion program, and also takes on many engineering projects. They manufacture fuel targets and diagnostics for inertial fusion and diagnostics for ITER among other things. Their international collaborations with the EAST reactor in China and ASDEX-U in Germany are very strong. The US also maintains a strong fusion program through MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center, which hosts the Alcator C-Mod device. Recently, C-Mod has had exceptional results in identifying an improved-confinement mode for plasmas where there are no plasma disruptions from edge-localised turbulence. While C-Mod is only going to be in operation for 2 more years, proposals for new devices are already in the works.
The first day of the meeting concluded with some words from a House Appropriations Committee staffer. The timing was great, since congress had just approved a budget not three days earlier. The overall budget for Fusion Energy Sciences remained roughly the same, with slight increases for the domestic program but a 25% reduction for ITER costs. The moral of the story we heard was that the fusion community needs to solidify behind a clear set of priorities. Unless that happens, there will definitely be no increase in funding for the program. And until that happens, maintaining both a strong domestic program and strong participation in ITER will be impossible with the current budgetary limits.
he first day of the meeting concluded with some words from a House Appropriations Committee staffer. The timing was great, since congress had just approved a budget not three days earlier. The overall budget for Fusion Energy Sciences remained roughly the same, with slight increases for the domestic program but a 25% reduction for ITER costs. The moral of the story we heard was that the fusion community needs to solidify behind a clear set of priorities. Unless that happens, there will definitely be no increase in funding for the program. And until that happens, maintaining both a strong domestic program and strong participation in ITER will be impossible with the current budgetary limits.
About the author
Matthew Parsons is a senior in the physics department at Drexel University, and an active member of his SPS chapter and the APS Forum on Physics and Society. He is very interested in all things related to education and outreach, as well as the environment and energy. He has had opportunities to conduct research for six months at both the NIST Center for Neutron Research and the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, and will be returning to Princeton for another six months this coming Spring (2015). After graduating a year early from a 5-year program, he hopes to be spending a year off in France as a Fulbright scholar to work on the ITER project, and then return to the US to pursue fusion research through grad school and beyond.
All photos courtesy of Matthew Parsons.
Check out the meeting program and presentations at http://fire.pppl.gov/fpa_annual_meet.html.
Find out more about ITER at www.iter.org.
Check out the US fusion program participants at http://science.energy.gov/fes/research/fusion-institutions/.Scientific Categories: