The heart of the matter
His office is still empty, almost clinical. It has not yet reached that stage of organized disorder that researchers' desks tend to be buried under. But Luciano Giancarli has only just moved in. In fact he is still moving and when asked for his official title, he needs to check his computer. "I am the Chief Technical Officer for the TBM Program," he reads out loud, smiling his broad Italian smile.
TBM stands for Test Blanket Module. Within these test blankets, a viable technique will be exploited to ensure tritium breeding self-sufficiency, one of the major technological breakthroughs required for passing from ITER to the demonstration fusion power plant DEMO and finally to fusion power plants. "As there is no practical external source of tritium for fusion energy development beyond the Deuterium-Tritium plasma operation in ITER, the successful development of Tritium Breeding Blankets is essential for the whole mission of fusion power," Giancarli stresses. ITER will gain the 10 kilograms of Tritium that are foreseen over the entire lifetime of expected 20 years from external sources. But for DEMO with an expected electrical power output of 800 MW, about 300g of Tritium per day will be required.
For this reason, it is stated among the technical objectives of ITER that "ITER should test tritium breeding module concepts that would lead in a future reactor to tritium self-sufficiency and to the extraction of high-grade heat and electricity production." In fact ITER is the only opportunity for testing TBMs in a real fusion environment.
In order to comply with this mission, a working group called ITER Test Blanket Working Group (TBWG) was established in October 2003 with Luciano since then acting as Chairman. "We have the concepts, we have the materials," Luciano says. "The R&D is in a mature state. We now have to make provisions to implement the program into the ITER design."
All seven ITER Members will participate in the TBM program as it is clear that the tritium breeding technology is one of the keys to fusion power. What this technology will look like is not yet decided. As the name says, it is a test program.
Currently there are two major blanket families on the test stand: the solid ceramic breeders bankets — either cooled by water or by helium, and the liquid lithium-lead blankets, either cooled by helium or the lithium-lead itself.
The Test Blanket Module Program has always been an ITER mission, even though it is not - not yet - part of the ITER Agreement. But there do exist considerations to establish the TBM Program as part of the ITER Agreement and also the main principles of management for such a program.
Having been engaged in breeding blanket R&D almost ever since his University days in Genoa 25 years ago, working at the CEA laboratory in Saclay mostly ever since, Luciano came a long way to finally see all the efforts paying out ... to see theory turning into application. "Well," Luciano says with that broad Italian smile in his face. "It could be worse. I could have been retired."
return to Newsline #28