ITER and the development of fusion power
Assuming energy security and stability will always demand some base-load power stations on the grid our children and grandchildren will use, what will provide the heat to boil the water? The most attractive and yet elusive alternative to the chemical burning of carbonaceous fossil fuels and the nuclear fission of the rare heavy nuclei left over from supernovae has long been the nuclear fusion of the light nuclei left over from the big bang, still by far the most common form of ordinary matter.
Spawned by Reagan and Gorbachev as a grand international collaboration to thaw the cold war, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), which is now under construction, is the final step towards a demonstration power plant.
ITER heralds a new era in fusion research. Over 70MW of auxiliary heating will be used to initiate fusion events producing 500MW of fusion power. Temperatures will range from near absolute zero in the superconducting cryostat to 10 times hotter than the core of the Sun. The plasma volume approaches that of an Olympic swimming pool, and it will carry 15 MA of current, more than the current in 500 lightning bolts. The machine itself will weigh 23,000 tons, or about half the weight of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Australian access to ITER is enabled by a cooperation agreement signed between ITER and ANSTO in September 2016. This is the first such technical agreement outside of the ITER members, and enables science, technology and engineering contributions in areas of topical relevance to ITER.
Fusion is a penultimate “grand challenge” of science and technology, and has featured in the ANU Grand Challenge scheme. The purpose of this seminar is to explore broader opportunities for collaboration in ITER science and technology, and fusion-power development across the ANU, and in particular with CECS. Examples include data mining and machine learning, high performance computing, human-centred computing, imaging and optical devices, materials, networked systems, robotics, and signal processing.
Through the Crawford School of Public Policy and the School of Regulation and Global Governance, the ANU has expertise in the economics of energy transition and future electricity systems, social licence, and in regulatory frameworks. For fusion the latter issues are no longer hypothetical: ITER is the first fusion facility for which a full safety case has been prepared and subjected to scrutiny of a nuclear regulator. The long term economics of fusion power will be influenced both by technology options and CO2 emissions policy.
Associate Professor Matthew J. Hole is a Senior Fellow of the ANU.
His principal field of research is magnetohydrodynamics, fluid modelling, and wave analysis of industrial plasmas, fusion plasmas, and space plasmas. Matthew is the founding Chair of the Australian ITER Forum, a research network spanning over 180 scientists and engineers; the Australian member of the IAEA International Fusion Research Council, the Chief Division Secretary of the Asia Pacific Physics Society Division of Plasma Physics, and on the Board of Editors of Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion, one of three top journals in this field.
In May 2017 Matthew was appointed an ITER Science Fellow by the ITER Director General. This was the first such appointment to a scientist outside the ITER member nations, the European Union, Japan, United States, Russia, South Korea, China and India. At the time of appointment, Matthew was one of only 25 ITER Science Fellows from across the globe, who will work on key research issues, collaborating not only with international scientists, but drawing in the Australian science community to tackle these challenges.