Posted on: 18th June 2012

An era ends at Culham this month with the retirement of Derek Stork, the head of technology at CCFE, after 34 years in fusion.

Dr Stork’s career began in particle physics, but he moved to Culham in 1978 as JET was being built. In 1980 he joined the JET team and subsequently became heavily involved in many of JET’s milestones. He was the session leader for the famous preliminary tritium experiment (PTE) in 1991, the first use of tritium-deuterium fuel for fusion. However his involvement was deeper than just session leader, as the tritium was injected using a modified neutral beam injector – as leader of the neutral beam division, he had overseen the upgrade to the beam system. More recently as head of the heating and fuels department he has seen upgrades to the heating systems and the installation of the pellet injection system.

“His real strength was in his knowledge of applied physics and engineering, as well as the exploitation of the machine,” says Head of Machine Operations, Tim Jones. “He was also a strong supporter of his staff and would stick by decisions, even if they resulted in the ‘difficult option’. He is not one to take shortcuts.”

CCFE CEO Steve Cowley also praised Dr Stork for his breadth of skills. “He is one of those rare people; he had a grasp of the very practical through to the quite theoretical.  We will miss his influence!”

Dr Stork is proud to have been part of JET.  “JET was a pioneering experiment – it still is!” he says . “I don’t think all those pioneers such as Paul-Henri Rebut and Alan Gibson got the recognition they deserve.”

“Running the first tritium shot was certainly a highlight,” says Dr Stork, “although in some ways the development of the full tritium beams for the 1997 campaign was more satisfying. It’d be nice to stay on forever and see things through…” However he also strongly believes he should step aside for the next generation. “Young people are not getting enough chances here in ITER. Rebut was only 38 when got the job as designer of the world’s biggest fusion machine!”

As to the future of JET, Dr Stork believes there is “plenty of life” in the machine yet, which can be of real benefit to the ITER partners. “JET is still at the top of its game  – I hope it gets internationalised.” he says.

CCFE is the UK signatory to EFDA, and is also the host and operator of JET.