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Fifth Framework Programme - External Advisory Groups

Opinion of the External Advisory Group (EAG) for the
Euratom Key Action "Controlled Thermonuclear Fusion"
on the Commission's Draft Work Programme concerning Fusion RTD in FP5

Brussels, 13 January 1999

This report is also available as PDF-file: fusion1.pdf (48 Kb)

After an informal meeting on 11 November 1998, the formally established EAG for the Euratom Key Action "Controlled Thermonuclear Fusion" met twice (27 November 1998 and 13 January 1999) to examine the Commission's draft work-programme for that key action. The EAG delivered the present opinion after noting differences in language between the draft work-programme and the Council Decision on the Euratom Programme.

1. Preamble

The importance of energy which is in increasing demand, environmental concerns, and the limitations in available energy resources drive the search for new energy sources, capable of providing a substantial response to the world's future needs. Today the present energy demand is already hard to satisfy in an environmentally acceptable way. It appears likely that in the year 2050 we should be looking for more than twice the present world consumption coming largely from sources other than fossil fuels. This is the fundamental justification for the European fusion programme, as it is for parallel efforts on renewable energy and enhanced efficiency.

Fusion research can best be carried out on a European scale. The European programme of controlled thermonuclear fusion is focused on the long-term objective of fusion power stations that meet the requirements of operational safety, environmental compatibility, and economic viability. The recent experiments with burning deuterium-tritium plasmas in the Joint European Torus (JET) have raised the confidence that it would be possible to build a commercial fusion reactor. The development costs will be substantial, but negligible compared with the cost of having to limit fossil fuel without having practicable alternatives.

The reactor orientation of the programme has provided the drive and the cohesion that made the programme so successful, making Europe undoubtedly a major world player. JET has achieved more than its original goals and is still the most powerful tool available anywhere for validation of the physics and the technical objectives of fusion research. It must, however, be replaced in the not too distant future by a Next Step, the plans for which need to be quickly clarified during FP5.

2. EAG opinions

  1. Global increases in demand for energy, especially for electricity, will be difficult to satisfy at the same time as meeting the serious concerns for impact on the environment. The EAG believes that fusion energy could possibly make a substantial contribution to electricity production in the future and that its development should be pursued by the European Union.

  2. The EAG appreciates that the socio-economic aspects of fusion - including the questions of safety, environmental protection, compatibility with the political and administrative structures of modern society, and public acceptance - have been identified as parts of the European fusion programme.

  3. The EAG endorses the general orientation of the European fusion programme, with its overall aim of developing the necessary basis for the future construction of an experimental reactor as Next Step. In order to be able to contribute to base-load electricity generation in the second half of the next century, fusion needs sufficient support to maintain this experimental reactor orientation.

  4. The performance objectives of the Next Step will have to match the availability of funding but the EAG believes that the minimum target for the Next Step should be a device capable of sustaining a burning plasma with a suitable fusion energy gain. For that purpose, the relevant technologies such as superconducting magnets, remote handling and tritium handling should be developed.

  5. The EAG emphasizes the importance of a continued industry involvement in the fusion programme.

  6. The EAG noted that a number of European fusion research facilities have been closed down after completion of their missions and that new devices have been brought on line during FP4. The EAG urges continued efficient use of existing facilities where significant and valuable work can be done in support of the general orientation of the programme. It may be justifiable to upgrade some of the facilities.

  7. The EAG believes that priority in technology development should be given to studies relevant to the Next Step rather than to demonstrations of technology relevant to prototype reactors. The EAG suggests that although development of tritium breeding blanket technology is important for the development of fusion, it could be slowed without major damage to the fusion programme.

  8. However the EAG considers that generic studies on advanced low-activation and radiation resistant materials are necessary in forming a firmer basis for the assessment of safety and environmental impact of fusion reactors, their economic viability and public acceptance.

  9. The EAG supports the close link between Next Step activities and work for the further improvement of the fusion reactor concept.

  10. Although the EU clearly leads the world in fusion, the EAG nevertheless endorses the intention that the further development of the necessary basis for the construction of the Next Step preferably should take place within the framework of international cooperation, such as ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), possibly with a reduced number of partners.

  11. The EAG welcomes the EFDA as an important tool for the implementation of the programme. If EFDA is implemented quickly, the EAG finds that the overall timetable is realistic.

  12. Fusion research is inevitably large-scale and long-term and is best pursued at a European level. To date the integrated European cooperation has been very successful in producing "European added value".

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External Advisory Groups | Fifth Framework Programme | 17.02.2000

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