Combining physics and management forces

Physics in all its variants is the strength of the European fusion laboratories. Technics and project management are the strengths of industry. EUROfusion is about to join all forces.

Back in 2010, the European Commission decided that industry should play a more active role in the development of fusion technology; especially while defining a reactor technology programme and participating in the power plant design beyond ITER. This was made one of the missions for the Fusion Industry Innovation Forum (FIIF) which was established at that time. In 2010, it was already clear that this meant the implementation of collaboration between industry and the fusion research centres. Before EUROfusion and up to now, however, fusion-related industrial work in Europe has focused on the ITER project and a number of other projects, such as Wendelstein 7-X or the contributions to the Broader Approach, a joint project between Fusion For Energy, Japan and EUROfusion. Hence, industrial work has been centered on manufacturing and construction, a situation which, of course, cannot change drastically before the ITER procurement activities are completed.

Nevertheless, the Roadmap to Fusion Electricity issued in 2012 communicated the European vision of a post-ITER device, a vision of a fusion demonstration power plant to be developed by the Research Units in a new partnership with industry. Now industry would come back into play to design the engineering for a completely new plant. For the time being (2014 – 2018), the first steps on this road are being made by EUROfusion.

In 2014, the involvement of industry in DEMO included a mere ten industrial full time employees. A certain deficit which reflected the fact that EUROfusion was a new entity.The available funding was rather limited and there were distances between the partners: they had difficulties in understanding one another, listening to each other and integrating teams.

Dr Thomas Mull. Picture: private

Dr Thomas Mull. Picture: private

But this situation has improved, thanks to dedicated efforts from EUROfusion. Industry involvement will have more than doubled in 2016, and in 2017 it is in a good position to reach five times the level of 2014. The flow of information between EUROfusion and industry has intensified thanks to the contact points implemented by the FIIF and EUROfusion’s Power Plant Physics and Technology Expert Group (PPPTEG). In fact, industry is participating now in the plant design. The collaboration has still room for improvements. Aware of that, EUROfusion is currently investigating how to exploit industrial management skills for PPPT. From an industrial point of view, project management is a centralised process, hierarchically structured with a clear delegation of entitlements and responsibilities, with commitments and deliveries with regard to time and quality.  Among the challenges ahead, the key issues will be, firstly, to sustainably secure industrial support and, secondly, to truly transfer leadership from research to industry.

Dr Thomas Mull, Areva
Thomas Mull (born 1960) has joined AREVA GmbH (then Siemens Power Generation Kraftwerkunion KWU) in 1992. In 2012, he took over responsibility for Nuclear Fusion, High Temperature Reactor and Transverse Model Activities. Thomas Mull was the Administration Manager at European Fusion Engineering and Technology EEIG (EFET) for two years before the termination of EFET in 2014. In the frame of EFET, AREVA GmbH participated in the ITER Engineering Design Activities. This year, the company has started to work with EUROfusion on early DEMO industry tasks.