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RDT info logoMagazine on European research Special issue - February 2007   

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Title  All eyes are on ITER

Backed up by the unique expertise it has acquired on JET – the most advanced experimental fusion machine in the world – Europe has succeeded in bringing together a wide international consensus regarding the realisation of ITER. The launch of this new reactor is mobilising enormous scientific and technological cooperation involving scholars and engineers from all over the world. At the European level, this collaboration is firmly structured and placed under the auspices of EFDA (the European Fusion Development Agreement).

The Cadarache site, in the south of France, with a mock-up of the ITER facility.
The Cadarache site, in the south of France, with a mock-up of the ITER facility. The new reactor should be operational by 2016.
Construction of ITER – which represents an investment of 4.5 billion euros – should commence in 2007 at the Cadarache site, in the south of France. This new fusion reactor, operational in 2016, should prove whether or not mankind can count on this extraordinary energy resource, which combines the promise of being unlimited, safe, fully controllable, clean (no waste products) and with no harmful effects on the climate.

Since the 1950s, several European countries have started to show an interest in the energy prospects of nuclear fusion and have financed research in various fundamental physics laboratories at national level. Moreover, at Community level, the 1957 Euratom Treaty, which defined a common policy in the nuclear sector, included the willingness to establish close scientific cooperation for the development of knowledge and technology in this futuristic field.

Under the aegis of the European Union, this climate of active collaboration established between scholars and engineers throughout the whole of Europe resulted in the emergence and realisation of the fusion reactor known as JET (Joint European Torus) at the Abingdon site, just outside Oxford (UK). Thanks to this state-of-the-art machine, the most important of its type in the world, progress made over two decades has contributed to top-level scientific and technological expertise regarding achieving the extremely complex conditions for fusion. These are marked by the enormous constraints of the mind-boggling temperature levels (reaching over 100 million degrees!) that are required for fusion to take place within a confined hydrogen plasma.

The European fusion ‘umbrella’

Although the construction and operation of JET – and the unique knowledge regarding fusion this has produced – has been one of the essential driving forces behind the launch of the new ITER reactor, it has also been the melting pot for scientific cooperation which is now unified and firmly structured at European level. This is covered by EFDA (the European Fusion Development Agreement).

This body brings together and coordinates all research resources devoted to fusion in 22 member countries, as well as programmes implemented by the European Commission in this field. EFDA is, in fact, the Project Manager for the JET operation, and its facilities should provide an especially well-suited test bench for evaluation and validation of the complex technologies needed for the development of ITER.

Supervision and management of EFDA are ensured by support teams (Close Support Units), based at Garching, near Munich (DE), and at JET. At Garching, all research activities spread over the 29 or so fundamental physics organisations and institutions working on the development of fusion in Europe are coordinated. The number one priority is, of course, the scientific and technological contribution that the European Union and each of the members of the organisation are committed to making to the ITER project.

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