EFDA Newsletter (EN): Prof. Llewellyn Smith, you were awarded a knighthood in 2001- can we expect you now to be something like a “white knight” for nuclear fusion after being successful in particle physics?

Chris Llewellyn Smith (CLS): I’m new to fusion, of course, but I bring with me from particle physics knowledge of very similar technologies and of some of the political problems that fusion is facing in trying to make a co-ordinated programme on the European and world scale. I hope to harness the support of the British Government, which is convinced of the importance of fusion as a potential source of environmentally friendly energy. I’m hoping, with Sir David King, the UK’s chief scientific advisor, to play a role in persuading other governments to take fusion and the need for fusion more seriously.

EN: You served 5 years as Director General at CERN, which has an excellent reputation for public education and technology transfer, two items which are almost missing in the fusion programme. How do you think that this aspect of fusion research can be improved?

CLS: CERN has certainly invented some wonderful technologies, such as the World Wide Web, but that was not the result of a deliberate technology transfer effort. CERN has had a big indirect effect on European industry by often asking industry to build things that are at or beyond the limit of their capability. When companies have got into difficulties, CERN engineers have gone in and helped them, and they have reaped future benefits from what they have learned. I think that similar things happen in fusion. There is a need to interest industry more in the long term prospect of a fusion industry, and the Euratom is taking steps to do so. Turning to public education, one important step – in the UK at least – is for the fusion scientists to develop better relations with the university-based scientists. Fusion research in the UK has been rather isolated at Culham. UK guest at EFDA CSU Garching (Germany): Prof. Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith (right) welcomed by Prof. Minh Quang Tran (EFDA leader). If you ask most university professors – ‘What do you think of fusion?’, you may get a negative reaction based on information which is 20 years out of date. We will have problems convincing the general public of the potential of fusion if we have not convinced other scientists.

EN: Do you see any particular feature missing from the fusion programme – at the Culham level or in the European programme?

CLS: The European programme is very strong: I think we lead the world. At Culham the UK programme is relatively small, but of very high quality, and of course we host JET which is currently the world’s most advanced fusion device. However, world-wide there is currently not enough work on the materials that will be needed to build a reliable fusion reactor. We must intensify the work in this area – on the plasma facing components, the structural components, and the divertor for a fusion power plant, as well as just simply for ITER.

EN: The US participates at CERN in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) project. What important conclusions would you derive from your experience of collaboration with the US for their participation in the ITER project – as ITER tops the DoE list of their facility priorities?

Prof. Sir Christopher Llewellyn Smith FRS is Director of the UKAEA Culham Division, which is responsible for the UK’s thermonuclear fusion programme. He succeeds the late Derek Robinson FRS.

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CLS: My main regret is that their contribution to the funding of ITER is not larger, although it is of course pleasing that ITER heads the DoE’s priority list. The US has the largest economy in the world and it’s a great pity that they are not prepared to contribute more than 10%, which is not commensurate with their scientific strength, and even less with their economic strength. Another point is that the Americans have a different way of working, and tend to reach decisions by “shoot-out”, rather than by consensus. In international collaborations, reaching consensus, in a way that leaves everybody happy and feeling that they have gained, is essential in order to keep political support. It took time for the Americans who work at CERN to get used to working in this way.

EN: Replacing Derek Robinson, what spirit do you take over from him into your new position?

CLS: I think that Derek did a fantastic job. In a very difficult period when the budget had been cut very strongly in the 1980s and the early 1990s in the UK, and during a time when the British Government was rather negative about fusion, he and his colleagues took some very clever decisions, such as building START, followed by MAST. So he is a very difficult act to follow, especially for somebody who comes from a completely different background.

Interview and Photo: D. Lutz-Lanzinger

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