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Of Interest

See archived entries

The changing fusion landscape

ITER hosting private sector workshop

Take out your smart phone and search your favourite news site for "nuclear fusion" or "fusion energy." On any given day, you will find articles discussing breakthroughs or innovative approaches to fusion. Dig deeper: you will find that the fusion projects under discussion are a mix of public and private initiatives—unique, because both sectors are still in the R&D phase. Not infrequently, you will find the current state of fusion characterized as a "competition" between public enterprises such as ITER and emerging private sector initiatives.

The ITER Organization is hosting an Inaugural Private Sector Fusion Workshop from 27 to 29 May. The outcomes from the workshop will help to establish priorities and formulate plans for how ITER will engage with private sector fusion companies going forward. (Click to view larger version...)
The ITER Organization is hosting an Inaugural Private Sector Fusion Workshop from 27 to 29 May. The outcomes from the workshop will help to establish priorities and formulate plans for how ITER will engage with private sector fusion companies going forward.
But is this the reality? Is it true that the public and private fusion sectors are in a race, and that the winner will make all others obsolete? Or—to ask a better question—if all parts of the fusion community share a common goal, what would be the ideal relationship between the public and private sector?

To answer that question, next week ITER will launch an unprecedented workshop featuring the leaders of these private sector initiatives. More than 350 fusion scientists and engineers—including representatives from more than 30 private sector fusion start-ups—will converge on the ITER site to present their achievements, their challenges, and their ideas on how ITER can help them. ITER, largely, will take the role of listener, offering worksite tours, discussions with experts, and brainstorming sessions on how to optimize collaboration while remaining focused on ITER's central mission.

The workshop is a first step, responding to a request from the ITER Council last November. For the Council to call for engagement with private sector fusion initiatives is, in itself, a recognition of the changing fusion R&D landscape. The nature and scope of that engagement is still to be determined.

Optimally, the goal would be to take advantage of the complementarity in public and private initiatives. ITER remains a sort of convergent national lab for all its Members, designed to enable repeatable experiments and long-term testing at industrial scale. By contrast, the private sector can offer smaller scale, more agile initiatives—leading to enabling technologies (e.g., better magnets and control systems), new physics, innovative materials, and concepts that involve a higher risk of failure.

Over time, the ambition is for this collaboration to lead to a "joint public-private narrative"—and, more importantly, a cross-sector approach to fusion innovation—in which the breakdown of information silos and the consolidation of knowledge can drive success.



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