Posted on: 30th April 2012

EFDA set participants at last week’s European Energy Conference a stimulating coffee break challenge: to replace the tiles in a fusion reactor. The new Remote Handling Experience exhibit, which simulates the operation of a robotic arm akin to that used to conduct maintenance at JET, was a central attraction at the EFDA stand in the Conference Expo. Many would-be engineers tried their hand at manipulating the “tiles” – wooden blocks – into their allotted spaces using only the on-screen camera view. However, the two minute time limit for the four tiles proved too testing for all but one contestant, giving visitors an appreciation of the skill that the JET technicians showed in replacing 84,000 components in the 2010 – 2011 shutdown.

The four day conference was attended by over three hundred people, who heard presentations ranging from US energy policy, to materials with tailored properties, to future electric vehicles, to artificial photosynthesis. Of course, fusion featured as well – plenary lectures were given by the Director General of ITER, Professor Osamu Motojima, and the EFDA leader, Dr Francesco Romanelli.

The depth and scope of innovation portrayed by the talks was impressive and there was a notable consensus that there will be no silver bullet to solve the looming energy issues – instead there was a feeling that governments and industries will have to work together to achieve an optimal energy mix for Europe’s – and the planet’s – future.