Fusion for Society

The history of mankind has been always filled with confrontation. What students are taught in History class mostly deals with the evolution of a certain group of people and how they faced other groups of people in order to survive and prevail.

After the end of World War II last century, this trend has changed, especially among European countries. During the last years, we have enjoyed the most peaceful period in history. The closer attachments and dependencies developed among countries due to globalization are partly responsible. And these international connections are the backbone of the fusion initiative.

In this article, one among the 11 stories featured in the special edition Fusion Writers' edition of Fusion In Europe, writer Alejandro Vázquez Cortés argues that "Fusion is more than a scientific pursuit." It is, he writes "a promising example of what international collaboration can achieve."

The power of collaboration

Just like the promise of a fair civilization (in the sense of an advanced stage of society) is the great gift of globalization in terms of social development, the promise of fusion energy is the great gift in terms of scientific development. However, the research required in order to turn this promise into reality takes a lot of manpower, investment and resources. During the second half of the 20th century, many countries tackled this challenge, but only their combined research efforts have led to our current state. No individual entity could have carried out this amount of high quality research by itself, making fusion research part of the glue that leads to globalised development. The fact that the fusion initiative intends to tackle the problem of greenhouse gas emissions coming from baseload power generation further emphasises its worldwide importance. The ultimate goal of fusion research is the improvement of the wellbeing of mankind, which is the most fundamental and important goal of scientific development. 

The successful collaboration of scientists coming from numerous cultures, diverse backgrounds and different mindsets pursuing a common goal together serves as a great example for the rest of the world to follow. Of course this is not a perfect partnership! Scientists are human after all. This presents a challenge to the success of any project, and the fusion community is no exception. Nevertheless, science provides the best environment to overcome those obstacles, and it gives us the means to move forward towards a just and inclusive global civilization.

The ITER project

One example of this is the formation of the ITER project in 1988, which was a result of the USA and USSR’s joint statement for international cooperation in pursuing controlled thermonuclear fusion as a source of energy. Nowadays, the research centers involved in ITER face the challenge of adapting foreign scientists to local working practices and customs. The differences in customs can be seen during the simple act of having lunch. In Mediterranean countries people go for lunch way later than in Northern European countries, so researchers working abroad have to adapt to new local habits in order to thrive. And as a good example of differences in work practices, I think of the subtleness of interactions with Japanese colleagues when working on a project together. By European standards, they are not direct enough when reviewing a project.

The ITER project is, therefore, the best example of what I am trying to tell. It took several years just to figure out where it would be located. Its multiple partnership nature entails this sort of situation, because the importance of the project makes each individual partner wanting to get the best possible outcome from it. Therefore, the expertise given by each part differs from one another, and everybody would like to have it their own way. Despite this, it has become a ground of mutual understanding and work towards a common goal.

...science provides the best environment to overcome obstacles, and it gives us the means to move forward towards a just and inclusive global civilization.

ITER's asset

In the case of the ITER project, the different parties have conceded much, so that the best joint feasible strategy is adopted. In so doing, the multicultural background of the ITER workforce has become the greatest asset of the project. Having several perspectives for the same problem actually ensures the application of the best-suited solution. ITER will be a success because of, and not in spite of, the differences among the partners.

First-hand experiences

I have realised that certain common backgrounds really help people to collaborate, concede, and trade shoes with their partners. I’ve experienced first-hand how international educational programmes, such as the EP-FUSION Master (of which I am an alumnus) are a very effective tool to get people used to working together. The students come from all over the world and have different backgrounds in physics (scientific discipline) and engineering (technological discipline). A fusion-dedicated Master’s Programme brings all of them together and gives them a shared experience and common ground. At the same time it allows for the exchange of ideas and experiences, and the pursuit of diverse research paths that the fusion field can offer. By the time these students finish their studies, they have acquired an extensive network of young scientists around the globe.

Fusion is therefore more than a scientific pursuit. Its research is becoming a promising example of what international collaboration can achieve. It’s something of which the rest of the world should take note and imitate!

A unit anecdote

Something I have personally experienced is the huge variety in units of pressure currently used by scientists from different countries (e.g., Pascals, milibar or Torr). As a result, it is sometimes challenging to speak to different scientists about pressures ranges. You are more worried about correctly converting the units instead of focusing on the discussion.