you're currently reading the news digest published from 27 May 2024 to 03 Jun 2024



Private Sector Workshop | "How can ITER help?"

There are many ways to approach the harnessing of fusion energy: one is to optimize or simplify existing concepts; another is to exhume long-abandoned solutions and, thanks to the progress of technology and a better understanding of physics, breathe a new life and pertinence into them. Another yet is to design and build more exotic devices, founded on principles and physical arrangements no one has ever thought of. Fuelling strategies can also diverge; when most devices stick to the well-proven potential of the two heavy hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium, others are pursuing the Holy Grail of 'aneutronic' proton-boron or helium-3 fusion. Whatever the options being pursued, the main actors in the different projects that have emerged in recent years were onstage at ITER last week to present their hopes and expectations: the first ITER Private Sector Fusion Workshop ever organized brought together close to 50 CEOs and senior scientists from private fusion startups, along with industry suppliers and representatives from public laboratories, the ITER Domestic Agencies, and the ITER Organization—all in all, approximately 350 stakeholders seeking to accelerate what is probably the most ambitious and imperative venture in humankind's history. Seventy years ago, the fusion communities in the East and West responded to the scope and complexity of the challenges they were facing by establishing a form of international collaboration. The 1956 visit that Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and Igor Kurchatov, the father of Soviet nuclear research, paid to the Atomic Energy Research Establishment in Harwell, in the United Kingdom, was the watershed moment that opened the way to the collaborative, worldwide sharing of knowledge and experience that has characterized fusion research ever since. In some degree and despite the immense progress that fusion has accomplished, the situation today resembles that of seven decades ago: two 'systems' or 'communities,' public and private this time, are now coexisting, engaged in the same quest and addressing similar issues. There are currently close to 50 privately funded fusion startups in 12 countries. Over the past five years, they have attracted more than 5.5 billion euros in private investment and the majority of them harbour ambitions to deliver fusion-generated electricity to the grid by the end of the 2030s, or even before. However outlandish the claim might appear, the timeline of fusion startups is not central to the present dynamics. If they are considered valuable by the established fusion community, it is because of their intrinsic nature—they are nimble and daring, they do not risk much even when exploring unorthodox avenues, and they can blaze new trails in neglected territories. Why is this all happening now? 'Because fusion is ready,' said Andrew Holland, the CEO of the Fusion Industry Association, in his address to the workshop participants. 'It is ready thanks to 70 years of public R&D. The startups know they are standing on the shoulders of giants.' Foremost among these 'giants' is the ITER international collaboration that has largely completed the monumental task of designing and manufacturing the most powerful fusion device ever conceived and is presently in the process of assembling it. During this decades-long process, a formidable mass of experience has been accumulated, which ITER is eager to share in order to accelerate global progress. What ITER offers to put at the private sector's disposal is 'information that wouldn't be available in conferences and seminars,' declared ITER Director-General Pietro Barabaschi. 'Information on what we did and why we did it, and, maybe even more valuable, on what we did and shouldn't have done...' As summarized by ITER Head of Communication Laban Coblentz, who was instrumental in the genesis and organization of the workshop, 'this conference is basically about: How can we help?' Having presented their approaches, provided the technical specifications of the devices they intend to build, named the technical breakthroughs they expect, and shared their timelines, the major startups participating in the workshop responded to that question. Accessing plasma modelling codes such as SOLPS-ITER and participating in the International Tokamak Physics Activity (ITPA) came out on top of the wish list. Sharing information on diagnostics systems, material properties and remote handling was also in high demand. Some suggested seconding or exchanging staff; others produced long lists that included support for the design of plasma-facing components, heating systems, and magnets, and also collaboration around procurement and regulatory aspects and the development of a 'common narrative'... The startups were not begging. And ITER was not 'granting.' Rather, the private companies and the public giants (several large national labs and research centres participated in the workshop) were, in the words of General Atomics senior scientist David Weisberg, 'starting a conversation' and laying the foundation for an extended, open collaboration for the benefit of all. 'Our DNA is to support the development of fusion,' said Pietro Barabaschi in his closing statement. 'It is not our ambition to coordinate you; we want to share our knowhow and—even more important maybe—our 'know-how-not.' We will do our best to make ITER your home.' 'Fusion,' added the ITER Director-General, 'is driven by people who want to make a difference in the world.' That was the case seventy years ago when fusion was an elusive dream. And that is the case today as fusion, if not completely 'ready,' is on its way to delivering. See scenes from the workshop in this video. Or listen to a special episode of The ITER Podcast.

Cross-sector advocacy | The fusion knights

Developing fusion as a usable energy source requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. At last week's ITER workshop, fusion advocacy organizations showed the role they are playing in accelerating fusion energy deployment. In his closing address to the ITER Private Sector Fusion Workshop, at which more than 350 experts had gathered to discuss pathways for cross-sector collaboration to accelerate fusion energy deployment, Director-General Pietro Barabaschi declared that 'ITER is not a separate kingdom.' Rather, he said, ITER is 'in, by, and of' the larger fusion ecosystem and working toward a shared ultimate goal. To extend Barabaschi's analogy—if ITER is part of a larger 'fusion kingdom,' then it can also be said that there are a number of 'fusion knights' who are fighting to accelerate commercially viable fusion energy in areas outside of the laboratory. Andrew Holland, the CEO of the Fusion Industry Association (FIA), and Melanie Windridge, CEO of Fusion Energy Insights (FEI), fit this mold. Both featured prominently at the ITER workshop as heads of organizations oriented towards accelerating fusion through engagement in areas such as policy, public information, regulation, investment and industry, rather than by supporting any one concept, organization, or nation. As CEO of the Fusion Industry Association, which describes itself as the 'voice of the private fusion industry,' Holland has helped steer the sector through an era of unprecedented growth. When the association launched in 2018, there were just 14 private fusion companies in existence and less than EUR 922 million (USD 1 billion) in private investment. Today, there are at least 43 private fusion companies (37 are FIA members) and more than EUR 5.5 billion (USD 6 billion) has been invested in the private fusion sector. Holland attributes this growth to the engineering and scientific progress made by the companies he represents, as well as energy-security and net-zero incentives to develop fusion energy. He describes the Fusion Industry Association's specific mission as 'driving the case to policymakers in Washington, and increasingly in governments around the world, that fusion is a viable energy choice. Fusion is something that is coming on a time scale that matters to them.' Under Holland, the Fusion Industry Association has played an essential role in creating a policy framework that has supported the growth of the private fusion sector. One key focus is creating fusion regulatory certainty. 'Establishing fusion regulation separately from nuclear fission is really important, in order to create clear rules of the game for fusion investment and operations.' His association has worked with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the US, as well as with the UK government, to develop such fit-for-purpose regulatory frameworks. At the ITER workshop last week, however, Holland's focus was on another main goal for the private fusion sector, which is continuing to develop the public-private collaborations that the Fusion Industry Association has played a key role in cultivating in recent years. In speaking on behalf of the private industry Holland said, in referencing the last 60 years of publicly funded fusion research: 'We know we stand on the shoulders of giants.' In his view, the ITER workshop may be a first step towards finding cross-sector pathways through public-private channels to share this accumulated knowledge and know-how. Windridge, on the other hand, is driving fusion acceleration through information dissemination. In a sense, Fusion Energy Insights (FEI) serves as a 'fusion translator' between the complex, technical world of fusion science and outside investors, stakeholders, and the general public. Indeed, Windridge believes that her organization is working to overcome the very information silos that the ITER workshop was designed to overcome. 'Silos exist when there is insufficient awareness of what others are doing, and insufficient communication. By offering a holistic bird's-eye view, we can help disseminate information to overcome these barriers.' Fusion Energy Insights offers a host of services directly targeting the specific needs of players across the industry, including a quarterly magazine, live online Q&A events and technical discovery sessions for members, plus specialized analyses for companies, governments, or investors in the form of targeted reports. 'Our platform brings visibility to the goals and challenges that fusion companies have, in order for suppliers to understand the needs of their customers and propose solutions.' For Windridge, the ITER workshop itself was a demonstration of the demand for fusion information dissemination across the fusion 'kingdom.' 'Meeting in person makes a huge difference, so I think it's really encouraging for everybody to be here and to see the enthusiasm in the room, to see the desire to share knowledge and for all of us to work towards the same goal.' The activities of the Fusion Industry Association and Fusion Energy Insights are complementary; for this reason, many companies are members of both organizations. However, the common belief that unites both Holland and Windridge's work is that fusion is coming, and the resulting business opportunities may be enormous. In a survey of its members published last year, a majority believes that the first fusion plant will deliver electricity to the grid before 2035, with industrialization occurring in the second half of that decade. Holland recognizes that such goals are extremely ambitious, and yet emphasized the importance of the private sector setting difficult targets. 'Our organizations have to embrace the spirit of 'why can't we move faster'? Find out what the physical limit is to how fast you can move, and then move at that speed.' Windridge concurs, arguing that these ambitious targets create an even greater urgency for information dissemination in order to spark 'a collective effort to drive the energy transition forward through the development of fusion' through the kind of collaboration being explored during ITER's three-day workshop. Follow these links to find out more about the Fusion Industry Association and Fusion Energy Insights.  

Knowledge dissemination | ITER enters a shared-information era

Workshop lays groundwork to provide vast amounts of ITER research and expertise to fusion companies. As ITER embarks on an ambitious initiative to accelerate the global fusion industry by sharing knowledge with private-sector companies, the process faces a commendable challenge: nobody predicted there would be such overwhelming demand. 'This challenge and opportunity is a reflection of ITER's successful contribution to a thriving private fusion industry,' says Michael Segal, Head of Open Innovation at Commonwealth Fusion Systems, one of the many private-sector companies seeking easier access to ITER research. 'We're at a unique moment in time when many fusion companies are ready to use ITER knowledge. This is a moment for ITER to shine.'   To help identify the best process for sharing the mountains of ITER research and data, a veritable who's who of the world fusion community gathered at the Private Sector Fusion Workshop held at ITER Organization Headquarters last week. The goal is to go beyond traditional routes such as publishing results in academic papers and deliver both ITER's 'know-how' and its 'know-how-not' that has been acquired from years of trial and error. Pietro Barabaschi, the Director-General of the ITER Organization, is spearheading this knowledge-sharing movement. Noting that ITER was always intended to be a technology transfer project, he addressed the hundreds of fusion experts at the general conference while also holding private side sessions to hear directly from private companies and fusion policymakers. 'We have to provide you the data to take decisions, to move faster, to make fewer mistakes,' Barabaschi said. 'We need to try and make ITER your home, a place where you can get the information that you need to do your business effectively because it is in our DNA to support the development of fusion.' When the ITER Agreement was signed in 2006, Article 10 emphasized that ITER would support 'the widest appropriate dissemination of information and intellectual property.' However, when this was written, results were theoretical and there was no private-sector fusion industry to speak of. Over the past decade, there has been what Andrew Holland, the director of the Fusion Industry Association, described as a 'Cambrian explosion' in the sector. There are now billions of dollars of private investment in private-sector companies around the world working to bring fusion energy to market via a range of technologies, from tokamaks to stellarators to magnetized target fusion. More than thirty of these companies were welcomed to the Private Sector Fusion Workshop to discuss the problems they encountered getting information from ITER and how public-private collaboration could boost their development. Several suggestions emerged, such as secondments so company employees could work alongside ITER staff or the opening up of ITER's list of proven suppliers and contractors. But the resounding theme was the hope for a more comprehensive public list of ITER research documents and an efficient official channel for information requests. Without access to ITER research, companies worry that time and money will be spent on tests that have already been conducted. 'It has been challenging to get a hold of information from ITER,' said David Kingham, the executive vice chairman of Tokamak Energy, a private fusion company that was spun off from the UK Atomic Energy Authority in 2009. 'We have had some success through our one-on-one relationships with ITER scientists, but this doesn't replace transparent, easy-to-use official mechanisms.' One reason the process has been complicated is the complexity of deciding what can be released. As per the ITER Agreement, all generated intellectual property can be shared with ITER Members and Members can then share it with third parties to advance fusion development. However, many documents contain background intellectual property that doesn't belong to ITER, so they must be assessed before release. Another issue is the overwhelming amount of material. It is estimated there are more than one million documents related to the ITER Project that need to be more adequately catalogued in a central database. There is also the question of how to make ITER scientists available to elaborate on the archived documentation. 'ITER can be the knowledge base that will enable tomorrow's fusion industry,' said David Weisberg, the lead scientist for Fusion Pilot Plant Integration at General Atomics. 'ITER experts would be a valuable resource to help educate the next generation of fusion developers.' In late 2023, the ITER Council requested the ITER Organization and Domestic Agencies to engage with the private sector. So far, last week's workshop is among the most concrete steps taken. In addition, ITER is creating the ITER Design Handbook to compile three decades of technical information and lessons learned. Explorations are also underway of the feasibility of using deep learning and artificial intelligence to corral the vast array of documents and create an easy-to-use database. Another measure to evaluate is whether formalized access could be given for private companies to join the meetings of the International Tokamak Physics Activity (ITPA), which works with ITER to coordinate fusion research.  ITER is also considering other requests, such as opening a secondment program for private-sector employees and creating a dedicated person or office to oversee access to information requests. However, these innovations would require agreement from ITER Members and definable costs to ensure resources are available to maintain the programs in the long term. While most private-sector companies are seeking support in technical areas such as breeding blanket technology, ITER's Pietro Barabaschi is adamant that the information sharing should include lessons learned during ITER's licensing process. As the project moves forward, companies are confident that ITER will benefit. 'The private companies are in a position to reach certain fusion milestones first, and some of the lessons we learn can help support the global fusion ecosystem, including ITER, in the future,' said Michael Segal of Commonwealth Fusion Systems. In the coming months, ITER will continue working with private companies to understand both thematic priorities and the preferred channels and approaches for sharing information. These priorities will help to lend shape to a more coherent overall program, which is likely to include future private sector fusion workshops.

Fusion codes and standards | "Consistency will accelerate global innovation"

The development of commonly agreed codes and standards for fusion goes right to the heart of ITER's vision of collaboration, recognizing the exceptional dynamism of the new fusion ecosystem and emphasizing the vital importance of public/private cooperation in the important years ahead. Fusion codes are sets of rules that will serve as generally accepted guidelines for the evolving fusion industry to follow. They will cover critical areas such as the safety and security characteristics of fusion plants, and deliver clarity on the respective roles of governments, research institutions, the private sector, regulators and other stakeholders. They will ensure that systems are reliable and secure. On their own, codes are not laws that must be followed, but they can be adopted into formal legislation. Fusion standards for their part are sets of technical guidelines and definitions which will help instruct designers, manufacturers or operators of fusion research facilities or power plants. In essence, fusion codes will show what needs to be done, and fusion standards will demonstrate how it should be done. In an area as complex, wide-ranging and consequential as fusion energy, the codes and standards need to be developed by a diverse international group of experts and institutions, including regulators, policy makers, public and private organizations, scientific establishments, and engineers from laboratories and experimental centres. The importance of cooperation in codes and standards was highlighted significantly at last week's Private Sector Fusion Workshop during presentations delivered by the Clean Air Task Force (CATF) and Oxford Sigma. Developing standards for fusion is part of Clean Air Task Force's global fusion program, established early last year. 'Fusion is now becoming an industrial sector, and we need to ensure standardization across the industry,' said Sehila M. Gonzalez de Vicente, global director for fusion energy. 'This is crucial, because it will help us reduce risks, reduce costs, and improve quality. Standardization will also lead to better communication between all the different players during the preparation and execution of highly complex fusion programs.' The CATF fusion standardization project seeks to enhance cost-effectiveness and overall competitiveness of the sector; improve quality and safety; apply proven and recognized requirements and methods to reduce risk and guarantee interoperability; facilitate communication; and reflect user needs and feedback in the development of fusion standards. Gonzalez places particular emphasis on the critical importance of international collaboration. 'When we're developing a common set of consistent standards, global collaboration is absolutely key,' she said. 'This is what we're aiming to achieve at the Clean Air Task Force, and ITER should play a central role here, as it has the most complete knowledge and experience in building a fusion machine. ITER's experience is unique in ensuring quality and dealing with all the different industries providing the high-tech components.' 'We also need to get out of the comfort zone of the fusion community, and reach out beyond it to new stakeholders, including people working to combat climate change,' she added. Jonathan Musgrove, Co-Founder and COO of Oxford Sigma, introduced the audience to the latest developments of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Boiler & Pressure Vessel (BPV) Code, Section III, Division 4. ASME's BPV Code Section III, in use since 1956, is designed for nuclear pressure retaining components. Division 4 of the code will focus on fusion energy devices, as existing nuclear codes and standards for construction do not adequately cover the design, manufacturing or construction of fusion energy devices currently being considered as future pilot plants. These new rules for fusion energy devices apply to pressure-retaining structures such as: vacuum vessels; cryostats; resistive/superconductor magnet structures, and in-vessel components (divertors, breeders, first-wall tiles); as well as to their interactions with each other. The new framework also covers elements at the component level: support structures, including metallic and non-metallic materials; containment or confinement structures; piping; vessels; valves; pumps; and supports. The first edition of the code was published in July 2023, with the second edition due in 2027. It will provide a balanced and representative view, Musgrove says, from private fusion companies/vendors, operators, supply chain providers, national regulators, national laboratories, governments and universities. Oxford Sigma is actively involved in helping develop the code to make it an international standard for fusion pressure systems. 'The code will be applicable to all types of fusion technologies, not just tokamaks,' said Musgrove. 'It's all about pressure-retaining components, and not technology choices such as fuel or confinement type.' ITER Director-General Pietro Barabaschi recognizes the importance of these "transversal" developments that can support the ecosystem as a whole. 'It is my firm belief that ITER should not only focus on building a research infrastructure, but it should also be a leader in consolidating the acquired 'know-how' relevant to building a fusion device. Having a consistent set of fusion codes and standards will help to accelerate global innovation, and we at ITER are ready to contribute our decades of experience to this goal by supporting all those undertaking this work, in any way we can.' Interested parties are invited to contact the Clean Air Task Force at or Oxford Sigma at

Industrial ecosystem | Suppliers see growing opportunities

A diverse group of suppliers described their roles in a growing ecosystem around nuclear fusion and shared their vision of the future. The quest for fusion brings together a wide range of supplier organizations from around the world, and with the global fusion supply chain projected by some to grow from EUR 460 million today (USD 500 million) to over EUR 6.5 billion (USD 7 billion) in the 2030s, the potential for companies is enormous. On day one of the ITER Private Sector Fusion Workshop last week, attendees got a taste of the diversity of offerings, as suppliers and partners set up tables at the evening event to explain their products and services. These organizations represent the growing ecosystem—everything from IDOM (a company that runs large construction and engineering projects) to consulting firms LT Calcoli (a specialist in numerical engineering analysis) and digiLab (a provider of AI solutions for energy, engineering, and transport projects). Some of the suppliers at the event said that while fusion only accounts for a small part of their business, they expect to grow within the industry even before it becomes a commercial reality. "Fusion is less than 1% of our revenue now," said Gianni Di Maio of CAEN SpA, a provider of electronic components, including power supplies and read-out electronic diagnostics. "We would like to find new ways of collaborating to increase our participation within ITER and the fusion ecosystem more generally." Other suppliers have already seen the fusion part of their business grow dramatically. "We have been associated with ITER for around 15 years," said Vijay Gehani, of the Cryo Scientific Division in INOX India, one of the industry leaders in cryogenic storage solutions and cryo-distribution systems. "While fusion is still only a small part of our revenue, we have seen remarkable year-over-year growth in that part of our business." Some of the partners started working in the industry with ITER and were able to move on to other fusion projects. "We have been working for ITER project continuously for more than 15 years, from prototyping to series production of different components, successfully delivering 70 radial plates and 10 toroidal field coils," said Marianna Ginola, SIMIC S.p.a. "At the moment we have contracts with Commonwealth Fusion Systems, but we are collaborating and in discussion with many other fusion companies." Similarly, Ignition Computing began working on fusion five years ago, when they helped develop simulation software for ITER. "The proportion of our work that is for fusion has rapidly increased, with ITER now responsible for the majority of our turnover," says CEO Daan van Vugt. "As of this year, we are now also working for Pacific Fusion, a US-based fusion startup." Some of the suppliers at the event work in both fusion and fission. One of them was Bhukhanvala Industries, who make engineered ceramics for ITER. CEO Niraj P. Bhukhanwala said, "We expect our business to grow both from fusion and SMR [small modular reactors]." Others have already developed tools and techniques that they marketed to industries beyond nuclear energy. Cosylab, for example, acquired skills building a standardized development environment for hundreds of control systems at ITER that they have since used to develop a complete software suite and integration services for radiation therapy devices that fight cancer. And Dawonsys, a supplier of AC/DC converters and high voltage power supplies at both ITER and KSTAR, successfully applied what they developed for fusion to two completely different industries. One is rolling stock, where they provided an inverter-based propulsion control unit and improved welding processes to large locomotives. The other is healthcare, where they integrate power electronics and control technology in accelerator-based BNCT cancer-therapy devices. Two of the organizations that presented have a mission to bring players together and connect the dots. Fusion Energy Insights (FEI) helps grow the ecosystem by bringing more people into fusion. "We want to help people understand that fusion is coming and that there are opportunities for their business," said CEO Melanie Windridge. And FuseNet, the European Fusion Education Network, provides support to students in fusion science and fusion engineering by sharing information about working in the fusion ecosystem, including in industry, during and after training. Connecting the dots was one of the goals of the event—and all suppliers seemed to appreciate the opportunity to meet other players in the ecosystem. "It was great to meet in person with people working in the same field and exchange information," said Marcin Orzechowski, CEO of Bimo Tech, a supplier of components and special metals—including rhodium targets, titanium and stainless steel 316LN-IG. The new contacts will surely help Bimo Tech on its way up the value chain. "Since we started working with ITER, we've learned a lot about fusion," says Orzechowski. "We pushed our manufacturers to reach the limits set by technical specifications. We learned about how it all fits together—and we now plan to build our own experimental fusion device within the next ten years."


Bonus episode: At the workshop

In this bonus episode of the ITER podcast, hear some of the voices of those who took part in the first Private Sector Fusion Workshop at ITER Headquarters in May. "Future Stars" was recorded on site as hundreds of people were meeting, comparing notes, and exploring possible paths to collaboration—all in the context of ITER asking "How can we help?" Listen to the latest episode directly on the ITER website or soon through Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, PodBean, Spotify, or Tune In.


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