This year’s International Atomic Energy Agency Fusion Energy Conference held in Daejeon, Republic of Korea, saw new ideas on how to open thedialogue with different target groups. The Korean local host took the opportunity to combine the most prominent fusion community’s conference with a festival and a forum in order to spread the good news of a green, sustainable energy source for our future. Guest author Richard Kamendje from the International Atomic Energy Agency was one of the Scientific Secretaries and conference organisers.

Satellite programme during IAEA FEC in 2010

As in all even years, 2010 was set for another edition of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Fusion Energy Conference. The fusion community’s premier international event assesses the progress achieved worldwide in fusion research against the backdrop of the requirements for a net energy producing fusion device.

A snapshot during the IAEA FEC conference in 2010

The 23rd IAEA Fusion Energy Conference (FEC) 2010 saw discussions of a wealth of scientific results from various laboratories and fusion devices around the globe. A quick look into the statistics reveals that the FEC 2010 has undoubtedly gone down in history as the biggest FEC ever: The IAEA received more than 1,200 nominations of participants and almost 600 scientific paper contributions. The JET Team supplied 54 contributed papers and ten oral presentations. The Programme Committee was first to feel the tangible increase in scientific volume of this year’s conference. Its members surely deserve to be congratulated on having the merit of putting together a scientifically sound as well as geographically balanced technical programme.

The high level of attendance not only underlines the IAEA’s important role as a facilitator but also demonstrates the success of the host, the Government of the Republic of Korea through its National Fusion Research Institute (NFRI) and the Daejeon Metropolitan City, in offering an attractive venue together with a number of enriching side events.

In the middle of the ITER era

ITER certainly does not come along at no cost to those involved. This was also true for the Programme Committee, which had to define, elaborate and implement a border line between an almost overwhelming number of technology papers reflecting the ITER era and the more traditional physics papers that past Fusion Energy Conferences were used to. Overall, all participants felt the technical programme was an emphasising novelty. The scale of the recent progress was made readily visible in the traditional summary talks, brilliantly delivered by the respective speakers. In the area of magnetic confinement fusion multiple highlights have contributed to strengthen the confidence that ITER construction and subsequent operation, including associated facilities, will be a success. The first element of confidence is, of course, the fact that the ITER project has now officially moved into its construction phase. From the many other examples that can be found, the development of ITER operational scenarios, including high performance high plasma current operation and the consolidation of ITER design choices are areas where JET, the largest operating predecessor of ITER, made significant contributions. On the other hand, the reported progress towards achieving ignition during the recent campaigns on the National Ignition Facility has already set new milestones in the quest for energy from inertial fusion.

A simple but effective orchestration

Tour on the Korean fusion device KSTAR

Energy from nuclear fusion into the electricity grid is not an endeavour that can entirely be realised by only physicists and engineers. Prof. G.S. Lee, Chairman of the Local Organising Committee and President of NFRI, was obviously largely motivated by this central idea. The result of that was a new wind blowing through the FEC 2010 in the shape of “communication with other communities”. The orchestration looked very simple but proved mostly effective: the FEC 2010 was set as part of a series of first-of-their kind events such as the first “International Youth Conference on Fusion Energy” or the “Green Forum”, just to mention a two.

The main purpose of the Youth Conference was to provide a bold contribution to bridging the looming generation gap among professionals within the fusion community. The young students and scientists were familiarised with the topics, challenges and career opportunities in the area of fusion science and technology with the aim of generating interest in the field at an early stage of a student’s or professional’s life. This first “experiment” was well received by the target groups with a total of around 150 participants from various countries.

Fusion – a green alternative

The Green forum during the IAEA FEC 2010

For its part the “Green Forum” was a high-level international and political discussion panel on fusion energy development and other knowledge-based energy measures to resolve the fundamental issues affecting the world, including climate change and the depletion of energy resources.

The concluding remarks to the forum highlighted the shared observation that, as a source of sustainable energy production, nuclear fusion is among the best candidates to provide a viable as well as reliable green alternative to fossil energy sources.

The local organiser of the FEC 2010 demonstrated a new approach to enrich a highly scientific conference with satellite events attracting initially different target groups. Fusion scientists and engineers could share their work, objectives and visions with the youth, politicians and policy makers, the industry and the public at large. Conversely, the fusion community could, to a certain degree, appreciate the consideration their effort is being given together with the contribution they are expected to make within national/international reliable future energy scenarios. This is certainly a lesson to be learned from the local host and a attitude conducive to emphasising fusion energy as a topic that eventually concern is everyone. The increased broad support on all levels and the necessary fast advances in the field may well depend on such attitudes becoming the habit in the worldwide fusion community.

The author of this article, Richard Kamendje, is a fusion and plasma physicist in the Physics Section of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Austria, Vienna since August 2009. Prior to joining the IAEA he spent four years in the JET Team as Scientific Assistant to the EFDA Associate Leader for JET.