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Posted September 29th 2014
The implementation of the EUROfusion consortium brings with it significant changes for its members, the national Research Units. Previously the European Commission had funded a percentage of each laboratory’s fusion activities by means of baseline support. Under the new set-up, EUROfusion distributes all EU-resources in form of funded projects defined according to the priorities set out by the Fusion Roadmap. In June, Tony Donné was appointed EUROfusion Programme Manager and he has since finished setting up the new organisation. Prior to that he was Head of the Dutch Research Unit FOM-DIFFER.
Tony, what motivated you to apply for the position of the EUROfusion Programme Manager?
I must say that I thought about it for a long time because I knew it is a very hard job, but I like challenges. As Head
of Research Unit and, prior to that as topical group leader, I was involved in EFDA and I felt strongly that we needed
to organise things in a different way to be ready for the future.
What are your goals?
Ultimately I want reach a point at which all Research Units want to strengthen EUROfusion because they feel a part of it and consider it a very successful organisation. As an organisation, EFDA only coordinated a relatively small fraction of the work of the various Research Units and therefore they did not have a strong shared aim, even though there was much collaboration between laboratories. We need to establish a strong shared spirit in order to tackle the Roadmap missions in a coherent way. This is challenging because the programme has become more competitive without baseline support. On the other hand, each Research Unit has its strong points and I hope to make use of these in order to get the best out of the system.
Where do you see the main challenges faced by EUROfusion?
One of the challenges in which we are already making good progress, is the interlacing of the JET programme with the rest of the European Fusion Programme. These have previously been considered separate activities and we need to change that in order to bring more coherence to our programme. Recently, the Task Force Leaders of the JET Programme and of the Medium Size Tokamak project discussed next year’s work programme and the deliverables they are aiming for. This was very important because I think it is better to first discuss the research programme with everyone involved and then divide it into different work packages. For this reason we will also hold a combined general planning meeting for JET and the MST devices early next year.
The other main challenge is keeping everyone aboard. In the new set-up, the Research Units need to raise money in a competitive way rather than receive annual baseline support. We need to motivate them to focus on their key competences and on areas that are part of the Fusion Roadmap. That will take many bilateral discussions. Another aspect is communication. I often noticed that people working within the Research Units did not know what has been decided in the General Assembly. I would urge the Heads of Research Unit to keep their teams up to date. This is not an easy task when units are large and spread out, for this reason, we have set up our electronic news brief that everyone can subscribe to.
We have to also push the internationalisation of JET to bring in other ITER parties, as recommended by an international
expert panel. This would imply investments from those parties. We are considering, for instance, an Electron Cyclotron Resonance Heating System or magnetic perturbation coils. JET is currently funded up to 2018 and is planning a tritium campaign in 2017. If we incorporate international partners, we will need to move this campaign to a later date, because we would need a major shutdown in order to integrate the new systems into the machine. JET would have to start preparing for tritium experiments now. A decision must be made by the end of this year although we do not know our budget beyond 2018. It would be good to be able to continue JET to enable a joint preparatory experiment for all ITER partners. It would also be a good strategy to keep the machine closest to ITER running until ITER starts up.
What opportunities do you see for your work?
I hope that I will succeed in forming a successful organisation which is also viewed this way by its members and partners. I hope to see some of the other ITER parties copy our formula as a really good way to organise collaborative research. This is a big opportunity. If we get everyone working in the same direction, we can make an enormous impact in the field.
Is the EUROfusion organisation that you are aiming for fit to implement the goal-oriented approach demanded by the Fusion Roadmap?
Yes, in my view it is indeed. Once we get the Research Units more closely aligned, EUROfusion will hopefully work as one big team, thus giving us the strength to pursue the Roadmap in the most efficient way. At the same time, we maintain a system flexible enough to add new topics and halt others, as new aspects are bound to arise.
What is your vision for EUROfusion beyond this (2014-2018) funding period?
I am confident that EUROfusion will continue until 2020. Around 2019 we will have to carefully assess EUROfusion and I hope that by then all partners and members will view it a successful organisation and want it to continue. It is possible that the conceptual design work we are doing for DEMO might move to Fusion for Energy, which by then will have finished most procurements for ITER and will therefore have resources available. EUROfusion’s natural role would then be to coordinate European participation in ITER, ensuring that we get most out of this experiment.
Education is also a part of the Roadmap. Where will you set priorities?
We will continue the very successful grants for post-doc researchers and introduce a similar set-up for engineers. The current Goal-Oriented-Training for engineers has not always succeeded in funding the most promising candidates. With our new grant scheme for engineers we will select excellent candidates but also ensure that they can work together in a network. Beyond this, we are carrying out a staff survey in Europe to assess how many people must be educated in the years to come and in what fields. The outcome of that survey, combined with input from our partners F4E, FuseNet and Industry, will be used to define the areas on which we focus our future fellowships.
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