During the 11-15th of September, the Symposium on Fusion Technology (SOFT) was held in the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, Poland. SOFT, the largest fusion conference in Europe, is held every second year. This year’s conference has broken all records with over 660 participants. An R&D and industrial exhibition with 26 participant organisations and companies was part of the conference.

During the opening ceremony, the director of the Energy Directorate of DG Research in the European Commission, Pablo Fernández Ruiz, reminded the SOFT participants they were there “to develop the knowledge base for the creation of prototype reactors for power stations which are safe, sustainable, environmentally responsible, and economically viable, and to realise ITER as the major step towards this objective”, as it is formulated in the seventh Framework Programme of the EU. Mr. Ruiz stressed that the present leading EU position stems from key contributions of the Fusion Associates within the integrated European Fusion Programme, and that, to maintain this leading role, the essential competences of the Associates need to be mobilised by further European integration. Furthermore, he stressed that through the new Joint Undertaking that will soon be set-up in Barcelona as the European Domestic Agency for ITER, the Fusion Associates and European industry will have a key role to play in participating to ITER construction. As a consequence of the start of this new entity, the year 2007 will also see a significant evolution of EFDA and the Contracts of Association with Euratom.

Norbert Holtkamp, ITER Principal Deputy Director General, in charge of leading the project construction, gave an overview of ITER. He underlined that for its size and cost, and the involvement of countries representing over half of today’s world population, ITER will become a new reference term for big science projects. “ITER, within the collaboration, has access to 70% of the world population. We need to find the best and the brightest within this pool”. Mr. Holtkamp emphasized his commitment to implement the construction of ITER on schedule and on budget. “The SOFT conference was my first exposure to the international Fusion Community and associated industries. It certainly was an opportunity to learn about the status of Fusion in general and also about open issues with ITER. At the moment, we are clearly in a phase of transition from a research project to a construction project.”

Jérôme Pamela, EFDA leader, spoke about the JET programme in support of ITER. Plans for an ITER-like wall and for fully integrated ITER-relevant plasma scenario’s, in addition to the ability to work with the real deuterium-tritium fusion fuel, will make sure that JET plays a major role in supporting ITER by preparing adequate plasma operation.

Captivated audience during the SOFT conference in Warsaw, Poland

A Round Table on ITER industrial participation and procurement was held, chaired by the former French research minister François d’Aubert and attended by Maurizio Gasparotto (EFDA Associate Leader for Technology), Angelo Airaghi (chairman of Ansaldo Energia, Finmeccanica), Marcel Gaube (EFET), Jean- Philippe Girard (ITER), Norbert Holtkamp (ITER), and Herkko Plit (TVO, Olkiluoto). The main topic of discussion was the management of risks in ITER, which are very specific with the in-kind procurements by seven Parties. Mr. d’Aubert stressed that “one of the first tools to develop is communication. The interfaces between the partners need to be very clearly defined”. Holtkamp underscored that the physical distances need to be managed, and that great care needs to be taken to make sure everyone understands each other: “The Earth is round, which is an issue when you want seven parties around the table.”

On the topic of division of responsibility, it was agreed that the ITER Organisation has the responsibility for the overall technical design, installation and operation of ITER and will approve the technical specifications. Holtkamp stressed that in cases where procurement sharing has led to possible difficulties in the integration of designs, it may be useful to form inter-Party consortia to solve the resulting complicated interfaces.

In the course of the five-day conference, a total of fifty oral presentations covered a broad range of subjects, from experimental fusion devices, plasma control and diagnostics, to plasma facing components, socio-economics of fusion, materials technology and future fusion power plants conceptual studies. As was to be expected, the ITER project was a focus of many of the presentations. During the poster sessions a total of 440 posters were displayed, which drew a large crowd.

The organisation of this years’ SOFT conference by the Polish Euratom Association IPPLM was greeted by all participants as a great success. The next conference will be held in Germany, near Greifswald.