Socio-economic studies

A successful fusion programme must result in an energy source which is both economically and socially acceptable. For this reason, back in 1997, Euratomestablished a programme on the subject of Socio-Economic Research on Fusion  (SERF) which became the responsibility of EFDA after it was established in 1999. SERF gathers the expertise of researchers from economics as well as social and environmental sciences. Currently 11 Associations are actively involved in SERF: CIEMAT (Spain), SCK-CEN (Belgium), ENEA (Italy), CCFE (UK), OEAW (Austria), IPPLM (Poland), IPP (Germany), RISØ (Denmark), CEA (France), IST (Portugal), and HAS (Hungary).

It explores public attitudes with regard to fusion and investigates suitable communication tools and methods designed to engage the public in a social dialogue about energy in the future, including fusion as a possible option. SERF also develops tools intended to support political decision-making. It also looks at the fusion community itself as a sociotechnological system, collecting insights both on how fusion scientists, working in distributed heterogeneous teams, jointly represent and solve complex problems and create new knowledge, as well as about the organisational culture of fusion research. All in all, the SERF programme aims at creating a repository of relevant social science results and insights, which will be a useful resource when drawing up a sustainable energy policy, enhancing fusion energy awareness and for the governance of fusion research and development projects like ITER.

Energy scenarios up until 2100 as derived from EFDA TIMES: If CO2- emissions are not restricted (top), cheap energy sources like coal will dominate the energy mix. If CO2-emissions are restricted (bottom), the energy market is opened up to renewable energy sources and fusion.

SERF also investigates energy systems and markets, analysing the dynamics of technological development and of energy policies and their implications regarding fusion. Among other things, SERF studies how fusion energy production costs will depend on plant engineering, on so called “technology learning” and on the evolution of energy demand. It also analyses future energy scenarios with respect to fusion’s prospects to enter the market.

Social acceptability of fusion

Because fusion power is still decades away from becoming reality, the public has not yet formed an opinion on it and often is not even aware of it. SERF studies have revealed that the European public frequently confuses fusion with fission and that this association impacts the acceptability of fusion in a negative way. People, who accept fusion energy usually do on the basis of two arguments, a perception of fusion as an energy source that guarantees an abundance of energy and is more environmentally friendly than other available sources with similar potential, or their positive association with “top” or pioneering scientific research. The latter is based on the fact that these people are happy to put their trust in high ranking scientists and research endeavours. Lay persons that reject fusion energy either show a high perception of risks or a strong preference for other energy options.

The research has revealed that public attitudes towards complex, new technologies like fusion are not only derived from scientific evidence. Many other resources contribute to their formation, including imagery created by mass media and individual social-context related experiences, such as accidents or good or bad practice examples regarding technology governance. Furthermore, public attitudes are enrooted in values and worldviews, in ways of thinking with regard to science and technology, in the perceived experts’ dependability and in the generalised sensitivity to risk of any kind. As with any discourse about a new technology, the discourse about fusion involves the discussion of other technologies as well the individual understanding of progress and visions regarding a desirable future.

Economic acceptability of fusion

A team of researchers from seven Associations (IPP, CCFE, ENEA, IST, CIEMAT, OEAW and RISØ) are engaged in the development and exploitation of the EFDA TIMES model. It is based on the TIMES model generator supplied by IEA and yields scenarios up until the year 2100, showing the conditions under which fusion and other technologies will enter into the energy market. Since fusion will only be commercially available in the second half of the century making it too far removed for accurate scientific forecasts, these scenario studies act as important decision-supporting tools for energy policy on the global and regional level. SERF intends to get involved in the international scientific energy debate by contributing EFDA TIMES scenarios and by introducing the fusion option into other long-term energy models used by the community. Experts agree that energy demand will increase significantly throughout the 21st century. Based on various assumptions, regarding, for instance, technology development or political regulations, there are different scenarios of the future energy systems. If a global threefold increase in primary energy demand and a sevenfold increase in electricity demand by 2100 is assumed, a number of scenarios have been developed based on EFDA TIMES. It appears that the greatest impacts on the role of fusion in the energy market are related to CO2-emissions regulations, the overall energy demand, the availability of uranium resources and the cost of fusion. Important potential aspects include the development of renewable as well as CCS (carbon capture and storage) technologies and the evolution of fast breeder fission reactors. If CO2-emissions are not restricted, the energy mix of the year 2100 will be dominated by coal and gas since these are the cheapest energy sources. The situation is completely different if CO2-emissions are to be considerably reduced. In this instance, climate-friendly technologies will dominate the energy mix and renewables and fusion will become highly competitive on the energy market.

SERF 2011 Work Programme (WP)

1) Studies in support of governance and public engagement

a. Integrated sustainability assessment of energy systems including fusion as an energy option – ISAF: ISAF aims to build a platform for a deliberative energy policy discourse at European level that will bring both fusion energy and other energy technology experts together, as well as policy makers. The programme will examine the views of the invited stakeholders and it will also test the usability of decision-supporting methodologies, procedures, structures and tools, such as the energy scenarios developed by the EFDA TIMES model.

b. Analysis of the European public discourse with regard to fusion: A critical analysis of public information documents produced by the fusion community, science centres and the media (the discourse “deconstruction”) will clarify the various positions on fusion and the underlying assumptions, frames and values or focal points. The study kicked off in 2010 with an analysis of the public discourse regarding ITER and will expand to include fusion energy and nuclear energy in general in 2011.

c. Evaluation of public informationactions: One of the main public information activities carried out by EFDA is the ‘Fusion Expo’ travelling exhibition. Following the example of many museums and science centres, a study has been launched under the 2010 Work Programme. It evaluates Fusion Expo from the point of view of its success in fostering an understanding of fusion among lay publics in Europe, and employs both ethnographic and sociological research instruments. The work will collect data during exhibitions in Spain and in the UK which will enable inter-cultural comparisons. The results will support EFDA in the further development of the Fusion Expo exhibition and other public information activities.

2) Studies in support of fusion RTD socio-technical systems

Fusion Research and Technology Development (RTD) takes place within large, international scientific networks composed of people, ideas and artefacts. SERF will investigate how the scientific work is coordinated and synchronised, for example, how members of the research body join or contribute to projects or form alliances and how tools and resources are produced or employed to cope with the complexity of problems within these networks. It will also look into the various dimensions of the organisational culture of fusion RTD bodies, addressing e.g. the role of cultural differences on organisational practices and the shared definition of problems and role responsibilities within international, multicultural research teams. The studies are designed to identify organisational and situational factors which support or undermine the successful accomplishment of collaborative tasks in fusion RTD structures. Within WP 2010, the first tasks have already been launched, commencing with a review of the state of the art in social and cognitive studies of science relevant to fusion and with two pilot research projects to be carried out in selected fusion labs. Within WP 2011, a wider research project will follow with a special focus to ITER.

3) Economic research based on EFDA TIMES

In 2009, the affordable new master version of the EFDA TIMES model was delivered. The partners agreed on a common database and on the first set of scenarios, the analysis of which will be presented to the international scientific community at the IAEA conference in Korea in October 2010. The results achieved will be consolidated in 2010 by a more detailed sensitivity analysis, which tests the robustness of the model against parameter variations as well as by studies regarding individual energy technologies, the implementation into the model of which will thus be improved. The latter refers to the representation of, e.g. generation IV fission reactors and nuclear fuel cycle, intermittent energy sources such as solar or wind power, CCS as well as the impacts of possible energy saving strategies and technologies which can reduce the growth rate of the energy demand. The EFDA TIMES model will be further exploited by the Associations and improved to make its scenarios more comparable with other models’ results, more robust and significant from a research point of view, and more relevant with respect to energy policy support.

A BIG thank you to Madgalena Gadomska, EFDA, for her input and support