In September the biennial 23rd Symposium on Fusion Technology (SOFT-23) took place in Venice under the capable management of Association Euratom-ENEA. As the Fusion community has come to realise, this conference is now the premier conference on fusion technology. This year, this was demonstrated by an attendance of over 570 scientists and engineers, including three from Nigeria, and with a total of 25 countries represented.

The tone for the week was set by the first three keynote speeches of the opening ceremony. There was a very warm welcome to Venice given by Professor Paolo Costa, Mayor of Venice and Member of the European Parliament. He communicated the local conviction that clean and safe energy sources for future generations must be developed. He also gave his p e r s o n n e l encouragement to the fusion community in their efforts to bring the fusion energy option to the market place. The second address, by Mr Pablo Fernandez Ruiz, the director of Energy Research, General Directorate RTD of the European Commission, gave a clear message on the determination to progress the ITER negotiations and outlined the direction that the Commission would be taking for the future of Research. The participants were informed that negotiations on ITER are being vigorously pursued in order to break the current siting deadlock. From the top political levels, the EU wishes to bring the ITER project to Cadarache, France. Discussions have also started on the content of the 7th Framework programme. Energy research should benefit from an increase budget in line with the Lisbon strategy, and the Barcelona objectives. The third presentation was given by Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith, Director of the UKAEA, Culham Laboratories. He gave his ideas on the fast track approach to realising fusion energy. He emphasised the need to have a more industrial, project oriented approach to the implementation of the fast track in fusion energy research with all the necessary physics and technological developments required for DEMO being pursued in parallel.

The objective of the Symposium on Fusion Technology (SOFT) is to exchange information on design, construction and operation of fusion experiments and on the technology for present fusion machines, the next step and power plants. It includes oral and poster presentations as well as an industrial and R & D exhibition.

The many oral and poster presentations showed the significant progress that has been made in the last two years in both physics understanding and the many different fusion technologies. Some specific examples are the success of the ITER Toroidal Field and Central Solenoid model coil projects and the many lessons learned in manufacturing and testing; the promising results of initial studies into high temperature superconductors which would economically be attractive for future fusion reactors; the exciting new EAST superconducting tokamak in China, which should achieve its first plasmas in 2005; the progress made in the design, development and testing of the proposed heating systems on ITER; the promising results from DIIID on the stabilisation of neoclassical tearing modes with ECR waves; the advances in plasma control and the understanding of plasma wall interaction processes; the confidence gained in the performance of irradiated high heat flux components; advances in remote handling systems are also benefiting from an increasing collaboration between remote handling researchers in fission and fusion research. In terms of the long term technologies there has been consolidation of the database on EUROFER-type steels, good progress in test blanket module designs and tests, as well as progress in the design and development of the IFMIF materials test facility.

For a lot of the participants though, SOFT was not just a chance to present or catch up with the latest research results. Twenty-four satellite meeting were held including; the Committee of Public Information, the Committee on Fusion Industry, four Executive Council meetings of the IEA Implementing Agreements and the Coordinating Committee for Neutral Beams.

All in all, SOFT-23 was a successful, highly motivating and constructive conference supported by outstanding hospitality. The international fusion community would like to thank Prof. Gnesotto and his team of Consorzio RFX for providing a flawless organisation in a fantastic venue, the “Fondazione Cini” on the San Giorgio Maggiore island. SOFT-24 will be held in Warsaw, Poland in 2006.

More Information on the conference and most of the presentations can be found on the website: