Mexico is not usually associated with fusion research. But in the 1970s, the country pursued the fusion quest but was forced to cease work abruptly. The remains of the “NOVILLO” tokamak are a starting point for new developments from the National Polytechnic Institute in Mexico City. The main targets for the new fusion projects are training people in fusion research and conduct experimental research. The efforts are supposed to enable Mexico to again become a country committed to fusion energy.

Two tokamaks, one winner

There is no doubt that during the 70s, Mexico aimed to play a vital part in developing fusion technology. There were two projects in consideration at that time: NOVILLO and TPM-1. The tokamak called TPM-1 (Tokamak Proyecto Mexicano), developed by Mario Vásquez, had a major radius of more than 50cm. It was the larger and more expensive of the two devices. TPM-1 was supposed to have a continuous winding for the toroidal magnets. The NOVILLO tokamak, by Jaime Ramos and Regulo López, was a smaller experiment but it had finally received approval for construction. NOVILLO was the first step towards creating fusion energy in Mexico. It contributed to testing, training and experimental research as of 1983.

The abandoned tokamak

Mario Vásquez started the construction of TPM-1 at the National Polytechnic Institute but it was never finished due to the lack of personnel and funding. The tokamak was abandoned later but some of the unused elements were saved by the Research Center for Applied Science and Advanced Technology for future fusion projects.

Complement larger tokamaks

Future tokamaks will be involved in national and international research. Martin Nieto affirms that Mexico cannot lag behind when it comes to research and development in this field: “We must ensure that we have specialists who are familiar with this technology and who contribute to solve open questions”. The features of the Mexican devices are planned to serve the different approaches to fusion energy. The tokamak T is designed to deliver important results for material science. The research and data should serve as a complement to larger tokamaks, such as JET and ITER.

What is superconductivity really?

Fusion Research Group from the Autonomos University of Nuevo León at the 25th Fusion Energy Conference in Saint Petersburg. Picture: private

Fusion Research Group from the Autonomos University of Nuevo León at the 25th Fusion Energy Conference in Saint Petersburg. Picture: private

The future Tokamak T will have superconducting coils. Generally speaking, every conductor has a resistance which enables electrons to flow. Similar to a rock falling through air or water, resistance means the same for electrons. No matter whether it be water, air or any other medium. The conductivity varies from material to material and researchers also know that cooling the conductor lowers the resistance for the electrons. Questions arise when we want to differentiate very good conductors from superconductors. Superconductors display almost zero resistance. This means that electrons can move freely but there is another important difference: the Meissner effect. This makes the real difference between conductors and superconductors. It means that the superconductor will not allow an external magnetic field inside.

The importance of being superconductive

Why are superconducting coils so important for fusion research? – There are several ways to create a powerful plasma which should, in the end, deliver energy. One approach is to increase the density of the plasma. That doesn’t happen in the magnetic confinement approaches used by tokamaks. The second way is to increase the time of confinement of the plasma so the tokamak can undergo more reactions and produce more energy. Both factors are considered by the so-called Lawson criterion. If it lasts long enough it will produce energy.

Hard work and dedication

Right now it is just a matter of time for Mexico to establish a larger group of fusion scientists and engineers and the experts have already teamed up. The Mexican Fusion Research Group or GIF, based on the Spanish acronym Grupo de Investigación de Fusión, which is responsible for the upcoming Tokamak T with its superconducting coils, has twelve members. Team leader Max Salvador is aiming high by relying on his enthused staff and believing in hard and dedicated work. Although new to the field, they have already delivered contributions to the worldwide fusion research effort, for example, by delivering an injection system, a chamber design and several control systems. They are also working with the Pierre and Marie Curie University in France, the Technical University of Munich in Germany and the University of Pavia in Italy.

The Tokamak TPM-U1 team of the Research Center for Applied Science and Advanced Technology of the National Polytechnic Institute from right to left: Gonzalo Ramos, Miguel Lindero, Daniel Hernandez, Dulce Ventura, Francisco Ceballos and project leader Martin Nieto. Picture: Ricardo Villegas Ruedas

The Tokamak TPM-U1 team of the Research Center for Applied Science and Advanced Technology of the National Polytechnic Institute from right to left: Gonzalo Ramos, Miguel Lindero, Daniel Hernandez, Dulce Ventura, Francisco Ceballos and project leader Martin Nieto. Picture: Ricardo Villegas Ruedas

A different story to tell

Mexican fusion research is in a different position to the one it was in during the 70s. It will soon have two tokamaks online. In response to the demanding needs of energy and environmental solutions, fusion is a long term answer and Mexican teams have shown their commitment and passion for solving the challenge. NOVILLO, with its national and international contributions, was a good example and it will not be the last one.

I am an undergraduate in physics and I am currently a teacher of science for juniors. I have been interested in fusion since the beginning of my career and I want to stay in the field. I wish for Mexico, as a country, to increasingly inform its own people about the importance of fusion. Just like EUROfusion does by way of articles or journals in Fusion in Europe or on its homepage.

César Alejandro Olivares Macías (24) from Mexico is currently based at Nuevo León, Mexico.
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