In May 2011, EFDA welcomed in excess of 70 experts from fusion research, industry and the European Commission. The meeting was held in Garching and marked the start of pre-conceptual design studies for a fusion power plant.

“Europe needs to enter into conceptual studies for a demonstration power plant as soon as possible. Other ITER partners have already established much clearer ideas on what DEMO should be like.” insisted EFDA Leader Francesco Romanelli in spring of 2010. After approval was given by the EFDA Steering Committee, a Department for Power Plant Physics and Technology was set up in Garching. Head of Department Gianfranco Federici held a workshop to take stock of the current state of knowledge, revisit the considered design choices and to identify the most important open issues as well as to review the R&D strategies necessary to resolve these issues. “We must take on a more system-oriented and integrated approach instead of concentrating on detailed component design” concluded Federici. Tasks were launched in several areas, like, for instance, the assessment of the system code for fusion reactor models and the relevant physics input, the strategy on divertor R&D and the assessment of the engineering material database. Former EFDA Leader, Karl Lackner of IPP, referred to the challenges: “In a system based on voluntary contributions, it is very difficult to ensure that not only the most interesting, but also the less rewarding issues are taken care of. These are just as important for the overall success of the project.” The next meeting to review the results of the launched assessments is scheduled to be held before the end of the year.

DEMO succeeds ITER and its purpose is to develop and test technologies, physics regimes and control routines necessary in order to operate a fusion reactor as a power plant and not just as a scientific experiment. One of the key criteria for DEMO is the production of electricity (albeit not at the price and the quantities of commercial power plants).

First commercial power plant may be ready to operate by 2050

“Ideally we would start constructing DEMO in 2030 and have it up and running in 2040. This is a very ambitious goal. It would then be possible to implement operation of a commercial power plant by 2050” estimated Serge Paidassi, a representative of the European Commission. In order to realise this aim, Europe should invest around 100 million euros within the upcoming 8th research Framework Programme, reasoned Derek Stork of CCFE. Stork is a former member of the previous EFDA/F4E DEMO working group, which ultimately led to the establishment of the current project. Finding a solution for the divertor is one of the biggest hurdles to be overcome. “It is extremely difficult to combine the plasma world, which has tens of thousands of degrees Celsius at the plasma edge, with the material world, which operates, at the highest, in the 1000 degrees Celsius range”, explained Lackner. Tritium breeding technologies, on the other hand, whilst critical, are perceived to be more soluble within the present knowledge base. “The blanket is complicated,” said Stork, “but not much more complicated than the core of a fission reactor. Solving the blanket problem is primarily a question of applying proper resources to the programme.”

Early links to industry are important

“If you do not involve industry early enough in the process you may develop concepts, ideas, and designs that are not fit for industrial realisation.” Paidassi welcomed the participation of several industrial partners, among them, the Thales group, Siemens, Ansaldo and Areva. Areva was represented by the Scientific Vice President Philippe Garderet who also chairs the European Fusion Industry Innovation Forum. Driving innovation is one reason for the industry to closely follow fusion research, pointed out Siemens Corporate Technologies representative Hubertus von Dewitz: “Many technologies currently being developed for fusion are of great interest to other industrial segments. I am specifically thinking of high temperature superconductivity for energy storage systems, smart generators and motors as well as for medical diagnostics. In addition, high temperature materials generate considerable interest in numerous applications, e.g. gas turbines.”