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27th SOFT conference focuses on ITER and beyond

Sabina Griffith

More than 1,000 participants attended the opening session of the 27th SOFT conference in Liège last week. (Click to view larger version...)
More than 1,000 participants attended the opening session of the 27th SOFT conference in Liège last week.
The Belgium town of Liège, where in 1869 Zénobe Théophile Gramme invented the dynamo, was the venue of the 27th Symposium on Fusion Technology (SOFT). More than 1,000 participants convened in the town's Congress Centre last week to discuss the latest developments in fusion research.

The conference was opened in the presence of his Royal Highness Prince Philippe of Belgium who showed great interest in the "alternative energetic scenario." Belgium's Vice Minister President Jean-Claude Marcourt, one of the keynote speakers during the opening ceremony, said that with the ITER Project and "its large-scale involvement, new hopes have appeared."

Marcourt stressed that access to energy and economic development were closely linked. "And what are fifty years [of development] compared to the scale of the Universe?" Marcourt continued. "Perhaps we are at the eve of figuring out an answer to our energy supply for the next millennium."

In his speech, Hervé Pero, acting Director of Energy within the Directorate-General for Research at the European Commission, sketched the European Roadmap to Fusion Energy. A roadmap that fully relies on the success of ITER: "If ITER fails," Pero stressed during a question-and-answer session, "this will be the end to fusion! We need to make ITER a success!"

The race for fusion energy, as seen by Belgian cartoonist Pierre Kroll. (Click to view larger version...)
The race for fusion energy, as seen by Belgian cartoonist Pierre Kroll.
The 27th edition of the SOFT conference with its large number of participants, a grand total of 636 posters, 17 invited talks, and 54 oral presentations once more highlighted the increasing interest in the development of fusion energy. For organizer Vincent Massaut, head of the Belgium Fusion Research Centre SCK-CEN in Mol, it was encouraging to see so many young faces in the corridors discussing their posters. Massaut also noted a new trend at SOFT. "Although the research and development for ITER going on all around the world clearly remains the focus of discussion, I think we here witnessed the opening of a new chapter in the book on fusion research: a chapter that covers the next steps after ITER: a DEMO reactor and a fusion power plant."
 
"Towards a fusion power plant," was also the title of a panel discussion on Tuesday morning, moderated by BBC presenter David Shukman. The panel was made up of representatives from the fusion community ("the dreamers" as Shukman called them)and representatives from the energy industry ("the realists"). José A. Tagle, head of the Technology Innovation Department at Spain's largest energy group, said that "there is no alternative to fusion energy in terms of pollution, an ever-growing population and poverty."

ITER Director-General Osamu Motojima during his keynote lecture presenting the status of the ITER Project. (Click to view larger version...)
ITER Director-General Osamu Motojima during his keynote lecture presenting the status of the ITER Project.
As to whether fusion was appearing on the energy landscape, Areva Vice President Philippe Garderet replied that yes, fusion was on their radar screens, but that it was not yet showing up on the energy market. "We are still far from any serious market debate," Garderet said. "We observe with interest the transition from prototyping to industrial manufacturing."

Roberto Adinolfi, CEO of the Italian consortium Ansaldo Nucleare, added, "With ITER, the market is clearly emerging but it is still far away from [being on] an industrial scale." 

The panel came to the conclusion that both for the sound development of fusion energy and for the industry to seriously buy in, the design and planning for a DEMO reactor had better start sooner than later.


Click here to read the opening speech of Minister Jean-Claude Marcourt.

Click here to see the photos of the SOFT opening ceremony.

Click here for more impressions from the 27th SOFT conference.


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