Fusion takes an entire family working together
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been closely involved with ITER since its inception, as the previous ITER cooperation phases and the ITER negotiations were held under its auspices. The IAEA Director-General is also the Depository of the ITER Agreement. In October 2008, the IAEA and ITER signed an agreement to enhance fusion research and the exchange of information. We asked Guenter Mank, the Section Head of the IAEA Physics Division, about his role as official observer to the ITER Council meetings.
What is the role of the IAEA in the ITER Project?
The IAEA fills several roles within ITER and the global fusion endeavour. For instance, we have the responsibility to support ITER towards the establishment of a working fusion facility. The IAEA is uniquely situated with 150 member states that are all interested in nuclear technology. Some are especially interested in using safe nuclear energy; and fusion energy is a very safe nuclear energy. This is essential for the IAEA. The signature of the ITER/IAEA Agreement in 2008 marked a milestone, and action is already happening. We provide ITER with an opportunity to speak in our meetings, and we have special sessions at the annual Fusion Energy Conference. Beyond that, we offer ITER the possibility to speak about additional scientific aspects of fusion which are not directly related to the ITER Project, but which are interesting also.
The IAEA benefits from this Agreement too, because our member states are greatly interested in the latest developments in fusion and nuclear technology. Fifty of our 150 members are very much interested in fusion and plasma physics. Special topics such as materials research can also be of great interest for the development of the next generation of fission power plants. Another topic where the IAEA can be supportive to fusion is in the area of existing knowledge within the IAEA related to safety and security issues of nuclear power plants. Of course, ITER is not a power plant, but the next step will be a power plant and the IAEA will certainly have an essential role to play in this next step.
You participated in this fifth ITER Council meeting as "observer". How would you describe your role?
Within the ITER/IAEA Agreement, the exchange of information is essential. This exchange can be done for example through the invitation of an observer to the International Fusion Research Council, where the ITER Director-General, Mr. Ikeda, regularly reports about the latest ITER activities. Another example is when an ITER observer attends the annual General Assembly of the IAEA. The participation of the IAEA in the ITER Council helps to ensure that our Member States are informed about the latest developments.
You mentioned that amongst the 150 member states, about 50 share particular interest in fusion technology?
Interest in nuclear power is certainly increasing. The fact that fusion can and will have some role to play in future energy scenarios is recognized by many states. But they also acknowledge that fusion will take quite some time. So, we have to take the different perspectives into account. Fission is an established technology, but even in that field we are seeing a whole range of new developments like the next Generation Three, Generation Three Plus or Generation Four reactors. These will also take some time.
Fusion is definitely seen as a perspective. We receive quite a lot of questions related to fusion. Our members are observing in detail what is happening here at ITER. That is also why this Council meeting is of great importance; because it can have direct implications on future decisions.
Having been observer to this fifth meeting of the ITER Council, what is your impression?
I have been told that this was one of the most interesting Council meetings so far. Personally speaking; I think that this meeting was very important. As the Chairman pointed out, achieving fusion takes an entire family working together. As in any family, there are always differences to work out. But what is also needed is communication before and after the actual discussion. I think that this meeting made that very clear, and I am sure that the next meetings will benefit from this. So you see, I think this was very positive.
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