After almost four years as EFDA leader, Jérôme Paméla will take on the role of director at Agence ITER France as of January 1st, 2010. Fusion News talks to him about the time he has spent at EFDA, fusion research in general and his new assignment.

Jérôme, your name has been associated with EFDA for a very long time. So before we start to talk about your future assignment, let us take a look back on your time at EFDA. How long have you been involved with EFDA?

In actual fact, I was with EFDA even before EFDA existed. At the end of the 90’s we needed to create a replacement for the JET Joint Undertaking Agreement. The Joint Undertaking Agreement was set to come to an end at the end of 1999, but we wanted to continue using JET and had to find a new statute for that. A number of us also considered it very important to change the orientation of the fusion programme in a way that brings the laboratories closer together. Even though they had already been collaborating on various projects, they were not really working together as a united force. Two working groups were formed under CCE-FU to prepare this. I was involved in the group which prepared the first EFDA agreement. This agreement was not only intended to be a new agreement for JET, but was to implement a change of culture as well. The agreement also took over from the former NET agreement under which the fusion technology R&D was conducted, including the European contribution towards ITER.

In February 1999, in a corridor in Brussels, Umberto Finzi, the Director of the Fusion Programme, proposed that I should lead JET and implement the new organisation under EFDA which was to start as of 1 January 2000. I was very surprised and, I must admit, a bit apprehensive regarding the challenge, but eventually, in September 1999, I moved to JET with a small team which I had gathered within the space of just two months. The agreement was not even signed when we moved! That was the start of my involvement in EFDA.

If you look back at your time at EFDA and compare the European collaboration at the beginning with the way it is now, what progress have you observed?

The progress has been quite significant. During the first year, in 2000, a sense of ownership of JET developed rapidly among the European laboratories because they were very closely involved by us in the definition of the programme and its execution. I think this close involvement, including scientific and technical responsibilities assigned to key people in the laboratories, was essential in the development of this sense of ownership. Some people may find that it is less effective than a more classical hierarchical structure, but for me, this joint sense of ownership of the programme has been essential to both secure a future for JET and to prepare a joint approach to ITER. And the system works well when it comes to the joint scientific utilisation of a research facility.

What are your EFDA highlights from the last 10 years?

At JET, we managed – thanks also to the excellent collaboration with and work put in by our UKAEA colleagues who were led efficiently by Frank Briscoe – to set up a new system in just a few months and this system worked from day one. This was a most exiting period.

Also, back in 1999, JET had a very short term future in the minds of many people in Europe. By jointly taking ownership of JET, the Heads of Associations and the key physicists in Europe recognised the value of the device as the key facility to prepare for ITER and we managed to launch two enhancement programmes in 2001 and 2005, which are culminating now with the installation of the ITER-like wall in the JET system.

Another important achievement was the technical contributions made to the ITER project. When the project almost went on stand-by between 2001 and 2005 while waiting for a decision on the site, European contribution under the coordination of EFDA, together with that of Japan and Russia, the other partners involved in ITER at the time, was extremely important in keeping up the technical momentum on the project.

An important step was a new change in the EFDA Agreement which was made at the beginning of 2008, when Fusion for Energy (F4E) was set-up to cover all the European contributions to ITER. The mission of EFDA changed, with the aim of reinforcing the coordination of research activities in laboratories.

How do you see the different roles played by F4E and EFDA?

F4E is the entity in charge of the European contribution to the ITER construction. It is a very important task which implies a number of industrial contracts but also actively supporting R&D. The role of EFDA is directed more towards the research side, and in particular towards physics. F4E and EFDA must work together very closely – and with ITER of course – to ensure that our research programme supports ITER in its scientific questions and allows us to prepare efficiently for the utilisation of ITER. For the latter we will need a very strong scientific programme for both European devices as well as in terms of theory and modelling. The European Fusion Programme must also attract new young scientists that are well trained and capable of utilising ITER. I expect EFDA to coordinate these efforts, which means that the roles played by F4E and EFDA complement each other.

We have heard that the EFDA Steering Committee will revise the role of EFDA. Can you comment on that?

For the reasons I just mentioned, the EFDA Steering Committee is certainly interested in seeing how the role of EFDA could be expanded to develop and coordinate fusion research in Europe. So it is probable that we have positive evolution to look forward to. After two years with the new EFDA, I think it is also time to asses the way we have implemented the new activities, in view of consolidating, improving and simplifying.

What is your opinion on a European satellite tokamak designed to support and complement ITER?

On this, I will give you my very personal views. Preparing for ITER, we had two big tokamaks, JET and JT 60-U in Japan, which operated in the 3-5 MA range, and some smaller devices operating at around 1 – 2 MA. It was important to have this variety of machines because a number of physics phenomena need to be explored under a wide range of conditions and parameters. To prepare for DEMO, we will have one big machine, ITER, and we will also need intermediate sized machines. Currently an upgrade of the Japanese machine, called JT 60-SA, is under construction within the framework of a collaboration between Europe and Japan.

JT 60-SA will be quite strong in a number of fields, but it cannot cover all subjects. However, combined with ITER and JT 60-SA, a European satellite, also operating in the 5 MA range, would and should ensure that we have no gaps in our experimental capability to address all issues needed to prepare for DEMO. So we are now working to define what the programmatic objectives of such a machine should be in order to optimise its value for supporting ITER and preparing for DEMO. Having such a device in Europe would also help ensure that we maintain a strong community of physicists well trained to use ITER. A key question is: When can we afford to put in the financial and human resources necessary to build this new device?

Can you comment on the new DEMO group that was set up earlier this year by CCE-FU and F4E?

This advisory group needs to make some proposals regarding the activities which are to be conducted over the coming few years as well as preparing for a longer term vision to take us towards DEMO. Ideally, we would need to enter into a conceptual design and significant R&D phase for DEMO relatively quickly, but this will have to wait as ITER will drain most of the financial resources of the European Programme for several years. Therefore the question is: What shall we do in the meantime in order to ensure an efficient – but lean – programme preparing for the conceptual phase in form of pre-conceptual studies and R&D on long lead items, i.e. items that we cannot afford to neglect at this time. The best example is the materials programme which started more than a decade ago, because we know that we will need several decades in order to fully develop materials which can sustain the conditions we expect in DEMO.

What was the reason for connecting this DEMO advisory group to F4E?

DEMO is certainly one of the long term objectives of F4E. It is clear to everybody that when the conceptual study of DEMO is launched as a project, with a strong team and significant R&D programme, this should be set up under F4E which has the instruments to implement the project. One thing the European committees will now have to decide is, how the R&D, which I mentioned earlier, is to be conducted until such time as we have the means to enter into the conceptual study project phase, and how DEMO activities are coordinated within Europe. It may be that, for a few more years, the vast majority of the activities would need to be conducted by the Associations.

If we look at fusion in general – what do you say to the frequent comment “Fusion is always 30 years away”?

I reply that there will soon be a time where we won’t be told that anymore and that will be when we carry out the Q=10 experiment on ITER. The people who started working on fusion in the 1950s and the 1960s were probably overly optimistic with regard to what was technically required to achieve fusion. Fusion is extremely demanding, it is probably as difficult as sending a man to Mars. We now have a clear idea of what needs to be done and I am convinced that when we have the results from ITER, the road towards the utilisation of fusion for generating energy will become real.

You already mentioned that ITER will need a new generation of scientists. Do you think that fusion research can attract the attention of enough young scientists and students?

Today there is a general difficulty in attracting people to science and engineering disciplines. In spite of that, we have a number of brilliant young people entering into the programme. But generally speaking, we will need more people than we can find today. And we are also limited by our budgets. Therefore the short-term situation could prove a bit difficult, but I am convinced that once the construction of ITER is well advanced and the prospect of its scientific utilisation nearing, a number of young people will hurry to get involved.

Let’s talk about your future position: What exactly will you be doing at Agence ITER France?

The Agence ITER France, which was set up within CEA three years ago, is in charge of what CEA as the host or ganisation must supply to help the project. It provides interfaces between the ITER project and the French authorities, a welcome port of call for ITER staff and their families and other supporting activities. The agency also manages the French financial contributions to ITER. CEA and the ITER Organisation signed the Site Support Agreement on 18th November. This agreement defines all the supplies and services provided by the host organisation.

Until now a major achievement has been the preparation of the ITER site: All the work has been delivered on time and within costs, thanks to the excellent work of my predecessor François Gauché. Now we need to complete this by providing further on-site services (such as 400 kV electricity or cooling water); we also need to build the ITER offices and annex buildings, while other construction work will be conducted by F4E. For a while the agency will also remain responsible for the site.

So you will be less involved in scientific aspects and more in organisational tasks?

Yes, but I will continue to follow up all the scientific and technical aspects of the ITER project. I think it is a key aspect of the interfacing between ITER and the host organisation.

One last question: You will start your new job on January 1st. Will a new EFDA leader have been appointed by then and will you have an overlap period with your successor?

I cannot tell you the starting date for my successor, but I will certainly do my very best to help with the transition period.