EU at the forefront of fusion research

Horizon 2020, our new framework programme, will provide unprecedented levels of support for European research and innovation. It will do so to achieve the goals of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, and to address key societal challenges such as combatting climate change and securing the supply of energy. Fusion energy research is part of this endeavour. Its importance has been underlined in the Strategic Energy Technology Plan and the next seven-year EU budget foresees significant funding for the completion of ITER and for the Euratom part of Horizon 2020. Fusion has enormous potential as an energy source for the future and the EU remains committed to this vision.

Europe has always played a leading role in this field. JET and ITER are hosted on European soil. JET is currently the world’s largest, and arguably most successful, operating fusion device. ITER is the world’s biggest and most ambitious energy research project, the success of which is paramount if the potential of fusion energy is to be realised. In the past, EFDA and the Contracts of Association have provided a solid basis in Europe for the scientific developments in fusion. However, the way we carry out research must now be reorganised and restructured so that Europe can effectively contribute to and benefit from the success of ITER. The recently agreed EFDA roadmap shows the path that should now be followed and is a testament to the high level of coordination and unity in the fusion community.

Robert-Jan Smits

(Picture: European Commission)

After consulting all stakeholders, the European Commission believes that to reach the roadmap’s objectives this new structure must be based on joint programming between the key research actors. The joint programme will bring together national and European resources to focus on the research needs of ITER, on its eventual exploitation and the goal of achieving fusion electricity within a reasonable timeframe. It will empower national laboratories and Member States to ‘take ownership’ of the process, but will also place more responsibility on them to redirect resources to the roadmap goals.

The European Commission remains committed to the fusion roadmap and to providing significant co-funding for the joint programme 2014-2018. The Commission expects that all member laboratories of EFDA will participate in the joint programme and thus benefit from
European support. This participation will allow them to further develop their competencies to be fully aligned with the roadmap.

Fusion research is an excellent example of a collaborative European effort that has been built up over many years as a result of successive Euratom programmes. The time has come to take the next step in line with the new roadmap, exploiting results of basic research in applied science and technology and increasingly involving industry. The new joint programme is the first crucial stage in this process. The Commission counts on the continued effective collaboration of all stakeholders in order to ensure that the vision of commercial fusion energy becomes reality.

Robert-Jan Smits is Director-General of DG Research and Innovation (RTD) at the European Commission. His previous assignments were Deputy Director-General of DG Joint Research Centre and Director for the European Research Area: Research Programmes and Capacity at DG RTD. Mr. Smits chairs several high-level committees such as European Research Area Committee (ERAC) and the Steering Committee of the European Research Council (ERCEA).
Robert-Jan Smits has degrees from Utrecht University in The Netherlands, Institut de Universitaire d’Hautes Études Internationales in Switzerland and Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy in the United States of America.