On 5 June 2009 Euratom and the Brazilian government set the terms of an agreement in the field of nuclear fusion research that is foreseen to be signed during the next Brazilian-European Union Summit, due to take place in October in Stockholm. We propose the reader to take a look at the state of fusion research in Brazil today.

Brazil has plenty of energy supplies: It has large reserves of crude oil, vast resources for the generation of hydroelectric power, and has the largest and most successful bio fuel program in the world. However, Brazil’s economy is growing fast and so will its energy requirements. Brazil operates two nuclear power plants and is about to restart the building of a third plant. Wishing to ensure sufficient energy supplies to support high economic growth rates, the country considers an expertise in fusion to be strategically desirable. Brazilian President Lula da Silva’s Plan of Action 2007 – 2010, a programme designed to accelerate Brazil’s growth, includes fusion research as part of the Advanced Nuclear System plan.

The Fusion research groups in Brazil:

  • University of São Paulo
    Theory & Experiment; TCABR Tokamak
  • National Space Research Institute
    São José dos Campos
    Theory & Experiment; ETE Tokamak
  • State University of Campinas
    Theory & Experiment; NOVA Tokamak
  • University of São Paulo at Lorena
    Materials Studies
  • Federal Fluminense University Niterói
    (near Rio de Janeiro)
    Theory & Experiment; Plasma spectroscopy
  • Federal University of Minas Gerais
    Belo Horizonte
    Reactors studies
  • State University of Santa Cruz
    Ilhéus-Bahia (Not shown on map)
    RF Heating Modeling and High
    Performance Computing
  • Federal University of Brasília
    Theory and Experiment; Small mirror
  • Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul
    Campo Grande
    n Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul
    Porto Alegre
  • Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte
    Natal (Not shown on map)
    Materials Studies
  • Federal University of Rio de Janeiro
    Atomic and Molecular Physics relevant for
    fusion resarch
  • Federal University of Paraná

In around 1975, nuclear physics groups in Brazil started to develop an interest in fusion. In 1978, they built the first tokamak, named TBR-1, at São Paulo University, and kept it in operation until the end of 1998. During these twenty plus years of research, Brazilian scientists developed a strong experimental programme in fusion plasma along two main lines: Characterization and control of MHD activity and the study of plasma edge phenomena.

Today, there are three tokamak experiments in Brazil:

The NOVA-UNICAMP tokamak, running at the University of Campinas since 1996, originally came from Kyoto University in Japan. It is a small tokamak with an iron core and conducting shell stabilisation built to study plasma-wall interaction and optical diagnostic development.

The ETE spherical tokamak was completed in 1993. It is located at the Brazilian National Space Research Institute INPE and was designed and built entirely in Brazil. It is used to investigate means of radio frequency current drive.

The TCABR tokamak at the University of São Paulo came from CRPP, Lausanne, Switzerland and has now been running for ten years. With a major plasma radius of 0.615 m, toroidal magnetic field of 1.1 T and maximum plasma current of 110 kA, it is the largest of the Brazil’s tokamak experiments.

There are currently around ten fusion research groups in Brazil. These comprise some 150 plasma scientists working on experimental and theoretical plasma physics. Local research is quite strong in the fields of superconducting materials, plasma rotation, edge turbulence and Alfven plasma heating, which is thought to be quite relevant for the control of the edge conditions of the plasma in a tokamak.

The fusion research ties between Brazil and Europe are strong as evidenced by the fact that, in the early 90s, the TCABR tokamak was able to be moved from Switzerland to São Paulo University. Currently, there are 45 scientists working on joint projects in the above mentioned areas with a total of 13 European research groups from eight different countries. The strongest ties exist between Brazil and Portugal, with Portuguese scientists from IST/IPFN routinely working in Brazil and vice versa. Furthermore, the São Paulo University research group collaborates closely with JET and UKAEA. Already most of the PhD students from Brazilian fusion research groups are now working in Europe.

In 2005 Dr. Odair Dias Gonçalves, President of the National Commission for Nuclear Energy in Brazil, visited JET and started consultations with the European Commission and with Euratom regarding a possible collaboration of Brazil within EFDA and ITER. During further talks between European delegations and Brazil, it became clear that Brazil needed a national programme to coordinate such activities. The Brazilian Government established a Brazilian fusion network, which is headed by the Brazilian Nuclear Energy Commission. Ricardo Galvão, the Director of the Brazilian Center for Physics Research and Professor at the University of São Paulo, was appointed executive secretary of the network. The network will organize and coordinate the research of the different groups and formalize the agreement with Euratom. Currently, around 80 researchers participate in the network with eleven research projects, of which five focus on magnetic confinement, three on diagnostics, two on modelling, and one on laser fusion.

The first and most important task is to set up a national fusion research laboratory. Construction will start in 2010. There are also plans to build another fusion machine. Within the next five years, the national laboratory is expected to be up and running, with the new machine providing even better potential for strong collaboration with European laboratories.

Mr. Galvão expects that the agreement with Euratom will change the Brazilian fusion landscape, anticipating that it will provide more focused goals to the Brazilian groups. Even though many Brazilian scientists have, in fact, worked at JET, the collaboration with Euratom will also make such participations more accessible. Furthermore, it will make the subject more attractive for students, thus helping to expand the Brazilian fusion community. Mr. Galvão also expects that there will be a general increase in the efforts put into fusion research in Brazil.

Thanks to Ricardo Galvão and Manuel Alonso, Association EURATOM/IST Portugal, for their contributions to this article.