Cutting the celebration cake in the shape of a tokamak: Milan Cˇercˇek, First Head of SFA and Uršula Turšicˇ. (Image: Marjan Smerke)

Young, excellent and ambitious – is what the Slovenian Fusion Association (SFA) claims to be. It was in 2005 when the Slovenian Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education founded the merger. Even today the Jožef Stefan Institute (JSI) leads the compound which also includes the laboratories of the Universities of Ljubljana and Nova Gorica. Almost half of its project leaders are younger than 40 years but are highly experienced and enjoy support from older colleagues when it comes to supporting ITER, JET or ASDEX-Upgrade.
The party to mark the 10th anniversary of the SFA took place at the Milan Čopič Nuclear Training Centre, about 20 km north-east of Ljubljana. The party set heard presentations from Jadran Lenarčič, Director of the Institute and Urban Krajcar, Director-General of Science Directorate, Ministry of Education, Science and Sport. Even Simon Webster, the Head of the Fusion Energy Unit in the European Commission, paid a courtesy visit to the SFA and listened to a presentation from Boštjan Končar, the current Head of the cluster. His predecessor, Milan Čerček, provided a historical overview of Slovenia’s fusion research and was subsequently awarded the honour of cutting into the lovely Tokamak-shaped cake. The Slovenian Company Confetto put a lot of effort in the creation of the tart, giving an impression of SFA’s goal: Supporting a working tokamak and therefore the future of fusion research.

Interview with Boštjan Končar, Head of the Slovenian Fusion Association

What does the 10th anniversary of the SFA mean for Slovenian fusion research?

Although the Slovenian Fusion Association was officially founded in 2005, the year when it was finally decided that ITER will be built in Europe, research into fusion had already begun in Slovenia in the nineties. By becoming one of the European fusion research Units we have joined a large scientific community that, in my eyes, leads and directs global fusion research. We are truly delighted to have been a part of this community from the very start.

What challenges were faced?

It was not an easy task to establish coordinated fusion research in Slovenia as the fusion projects required major support from national funding authorities. In the beginning it took a lot of effort to attract and coordinate different laboratories. In 2012 the Slovenian research needed to be adapted in line with the European fusion roadmap. That helped SFA to successfully undergo the transition from the association-structured program to the consortium-based programme of EUROfusion within Horizon 2020.

What really worked out well?

One of the highlights is the fusion exhibition, which SFA has taken over in 2008. Since then, we have successfully organised and led it for six consecutive years. Especially since establishing SFA, fusion research in Slovenia has gained momentum. Now we are increasingly investigating, for instance, the development of new fusion materials as well as neutron detection and modelling. Our laboratories study plasma physics and plasma-wall interaction. Furthermore, our research groups deal with numerical simulations involved in the DEMO design. Last but not least, the first EUROfusion Engineering Grant was received by a researcher from the University of Ljubljana.

Where can improvements be made?

We still need to put a lot of effort into obtaining stable national funding for fusion activities. Also, we are trying to attract the best students and increase the involvement of young researchers in the experimental campaigns in European tokamaks.