Posted on: 2nd May 2005
“Let me go back to 1958 when EURATOM was constituted having fusion as a modest element of the initial research programme. In September of the same year at the Geneva Conference important activities and progress in fusion (mainly in the USA, USSR and UK) were reported. (…) The first contract was signed in 1959 with the French CEA (Laboratories in Fontenay aux Roses and Saclay), after with Italy (Frascati), with Germany (Garching and Julich) etc. In the sixties, the main activities were the development of the not previously existing ‘plasma physics’ and the tentative exploration of a variety of confinement schemes together with some effort on heating methods. The role of Brussels was to promote the exchange of information, the training and exchange of staff (and some instruments) and to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort.”
“The turning point for several reasons occurred at the end of the sixties. From the scientific point of view, in August 1968 at the Novosibirsk Conference the emergence of the Tokamak became evident. (…) We realised that in order to keep pace with the progress in tokamak a vigorous programme was necessary so that (…) we submitted for the agreement of the Council of Ministers a new five year Fusion Programme of expansion. We proposed to focus the activity on toroidal configurations, and in particular on tokamaks. A special fund was foreseen in order to give higher rate support to the laboratories for building new machines. This was later called ‘the priority support’. The necessity of starting a joint project for a very large tokamak, afterwards called JET, to be built as a common enterprise was also mentioned. We were successful and we got from the Council of Ministers the requested money and even a little more.”
Prof. D. Palumbo, former Director of the Euratom Fusion Programme in the EC, in “The Growth of European Fusion Research”, talk presented at the symposium at Culham Laboratory on the occasion of Dr R.S.Pease retirement on 8th December 1987, published in Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion, Vol. 30, No 14 (1988) 2069-2072
After the second world war, the main players in fusion research were the USA and USSR, with a brief but key contribution from the United Kingdom in the 1950s. However, due to the constant efforts of people like Prof. Palumbo, the emerging European fusion community could take advantage of international developments, including the success of the tokamak configuration and the continuous growth of the European Union. Consequently, since the 1970s, Europe has become increasingly influential in our research field, together with another rising power, Japan. Today, the European Union plays a leading role in fusion research both in terms of resources and results: JET, currently the world’s only magnetic fusion facility with Tritium capability, holds the world record in actual fusion power production (16 MW). JET also provides a working example of a fully international fusion research centre.
In the 21st century, countries like China and South Korea are joining in the fusion endeavour with priceless “new blood”, including superconductive research projects, increasing numbers of trained manpower and, last but not least, impressive enthusiasm. With such a positive background, the European fusion community is eagerly waiting for an early decision on ITER, where our present expertise would be shared on a truly global scale, hopefully including all the six major research partners.
To learn more about fusion history, follow our series of World Year of Pysics articles. In the coming months we will cover, amongst other things, the success of tokamaks in the late 1960s, JET’s world records fusion energy release, and a brief history of the ITER project.