Fusion News talks to designated leader Gianfranco Federici

Gianfranco, you have been appointed leader of the new EFDA department for Power Plant Physics and Technology (PPP&T). For those of us who are used to the term ‘power plant’ in reference to DEMO, could you explain how the department is linked to DEMO?

DEMO is the first fusion device designed to produce electricity and is the logical next step after ITER, which is purely a scientific experiment. As foreseen in the Fast Track, DEMO will be the last step before the first fusion power plant. During one phase of its exploitation, it will produce a significant amount of electricity which is fed into the grid. It will also serve to qualify key components for the first fusion power plant.

My understanding is that PPP&T, or 3PT, as we tend to call it, will be looking at post-ITER-class fusion devices, i.e., those that enable fusion to be converted from the domain of experimentation and research into demonstrating fusion power production in possible future commercial exploitation. The emphasis of 3PT should be placed on the definition of a conceptual design for a Demonstration Power Fusion Reactor (DEMO).

What are the objectives of 3PT?

As I said the main aim is to develop a DEMO conceptual design, a task which should be completed in about five years time, assuming adequate resources are made available. This includes the selection of the machine concept, the design parameters and modes of operation, as well as the preliminary design and the integration of its main components. We should also identify and coordinate the R&D activities necessary to validate the assumptions underlying the concept and estimate the costs and time needed to build this device. The significant physics- related questions to be addressed are, for example, the divertor power exhaust, which I consider to be one of the most cruical reactor-related problems to be solved, the definition of a reliable mode of operation, the need to guarantee plasma performance at high density, and the avoidance and mitigation of disruptions and ELMs, which can damage the in-vessel components. The most important technology-related problems to be solved include the qualification of resilient materials for in-vessel components, the development of sound technological solutions for the divertor and of optimised remote maintenance schemes for high machine availability, the achievement of adequate thermal efficiency and tritium breeding, and thereliability and efficiency of heating and current drive systems. It must be recognised that some of these issues are quite daunting and we need to be innovative but realistic. In this respect, I welcome an element of early involvement of industry with its culture of ‘design for buildabilty, operability, reliability and maintainability’. Even though the tokamak is undeniably the most mature concept today, I would say that, at this stage, and in the absence of a ‘clear winner’, we need to work without preconceptions and not discount studies of alternative concepts such as stellarators or spherical tokamaks. While we expect that the operation of ITER will provide all the necessary knowledge needed to control the plasma and its power in a more powerful demonstration reactor, the fact is this remains a hope. This is why I believe that at this stage we should not turn our backs on any opportunity and try to keep, at least at the beginning, more than one door open.

When will the department start operating, how much manpower will it have and where will it be located?

I was appointed at the end of October and I expect to work on this full-time by the beginning of next year, knowing that, for the first two years especially resources will be rather limited. We will have to maximise synergies and collaborations among the different institutions involved. I intend to establish a core team at EFDA CSU Garching, along with distributed design teams in a small number of dedicated Associations. This should somewhat resemble the ITER EDA work methodology, which has proved to be an efficient and successful setup. Once set up, the core group in Garching will lead the overall machine design and physics integration and supervise and manage all design and R&D activities. The ‘co-centres’ will focus on specific component design and R&D, assist design integration work conducted in Garching and provide primary support in areas where specific expertise exists.

Gianfranco Federici was born in 1960. He holds a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering, which he completed in the field of Fusion Engineering and Applied Plasma Physics at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1989. From 1994 until 2006, he was a member in the Divertor and Plasma Interface Division of the ITER Team at the Joint Work Site of Garching. Thereafter he worked as Field Coordinator for Vessel/In Vessel components in the EFDA Close Support Unit of Garching. Since April 2008, he has held leading responsibilities on a series of cross-cutting activities at the ITER Department of Fusion for Energy in Barcelona. In August 2010 he startedworking in the Broader Approach Department of Fusion for Energy at Garching in order to coordinate the European DEMO design activities. Gianfranco Federici is a Fellow of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) and has received the Outstanding Technical Accomplishment Award of the ANS Fusion Energy Division (2002). He also holds the 2000 David J. Rose Award for Excellence in Fusion Engineering by the Fusion Power Associates.

In which fields will 3PT coordinate the activities of the Associations?

I believe that there is an urgent need to reorient the non-ITER part of the Fusion Program in Europe and to establish a sustained and reciprocal commitment of the European Commission and EFDA Associates with the shared aim of developing the necessary knowledge for the design, construction and operation of a demonstration fusion power plant. This requires strong competences in various physics and technology fields and EFDA, representing the combined expertise of the European Associations, would provide the ideal framework for this project. The current concept, as proposed by the EFDA Leader, that I fully support, would create an EFDA Implementing Agreement on 3PT, where participating Associations and the Commission are willing to allocate resources at a predefined minimum commitment level from the very beginning. If set up in the way planned, the 3PT Agreement would embody the original spirit of EFDA well. A spirit oriented towards goals rather than topics. This process would minimise fragmentation and generate added value in an important new strategic activity, where the majority of individual Associations are sub-critical. I would thus be responsible for the implementation of the activities in the Agreement, with the support and coordination of a Management Board composed by representatives of Associates that have signed the Agreement, the Commission and Fusion for Energy. The work will be shared among the Associates directly interested and ready to invest through baseline and priority support. However, all knowledge produced as part of the work carried out under the Agreement will be available to all EFDA Associates. It should also be recognised that preparations for DEMO are part of the statutory tasks of Fusion for Energy that arise from the Broader Approach Agreement between Europe and Japan. The activities implemented under the EFDA 3PT Agreement would however, contribute largely to fulfil this commitment.

Are you already in a position to set out your ideas for a workplan?

In line with the recommendations of the ad-hoc group on DEMO activities, the most urgent tasks to be conducted initially will be oriented towards assessing key issues in an actual design context and directing the associated necessary design and R&D activities. I am preparing, in collaboration with the EFDA Leader, a work programme that addresses a limited number of urgent priorities for the near future, keeping in mind that, at the time of this interview, I still do not know how many resources and what kind of implementing tools I will have available to me next year. To be more specific, I plan to concentrate the initial efforts on a few criticalareas. Firstly, the development of a system code for integrated design and development  together with consolidation and revisiting of the physics knowledge basis achieved so far and required for the design of DEMO; secondly, the analysis of the power exhaust problem in a reactor and the development of consistent physics scenarios and sound technological solutions for the divertor and the first wall; and thirdly, starting the assessment of well known fusion reactor integration problems and associated R&D needs. Also, the compatibility between pulsed and steady-state designs should be investigated relatively soon.

Looking at your experience in fusion engineering – where would you say European fusion research stands with respect to a Demonstration Fusion Power Reactor concept?

Europe still retains a leading position in fusion, but in order to consolidate a credible fusion road map for the realisation of commercial fusion power, our ability to build a technically sound and economically viable demonstration fusion power reactor must be confirmed. Considering the time required to carry out the conceptual studies and subsequent R&D, the road to fusion power will be hindered, if the activities for DEMO do not start now. In ITER, for example, the conceptual design phase lasted for about 5 years, excluding the previous important work done in Europe on NET, and was followed by an engineering design phase in excess of ten years in length. In total about 20 years passed between the start of the conceptual study and the beginning of construction. Moreover, we need these studies to ensure early definition of the constraints on plasma operation and machine configurations e.g., plasma facing materials to leverage plasma scenario developments on present devices and ITER. The challenge of qualifying materials and components that withstand the harsh conditions expected in a reactor, i.e. high heat and neutron fluxes, also demands urgent investments to be made on the construction of fusion material irradiation facilities, for example IFMIF. Just as urgent is a decision regarding the possible role of a satellite tokamak designed for testing reactor-relevant divertor concepts. The same is to be said for the possible role of a component testing facility to accelerate the development/qualification of reactor-grade blankets and wall structures. Both these issues require proper feasibility studies.