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‘We need to change gears’

One of Europe's premiere fusion researchers, professor Ambrogio Fasoli (Chair of the EUROfusion General Assembly and director of the Swiss Plasma Center) recently published an essay in the top scientific journal Physical Review Letters on overcoming the obstacles on our way to fusion energy. EUROfusion sat down for an interview to talk with him about his vision for the future of fusion energy research.

What inspired you to write this essay?

The Editor of PRL (Physical Review Letters) contacted me to ask me to express a vision of the field in the context of the new format they have introduced recently, called ‘Essays.’ I seized the occasion with great pleasure, because I think it is very timely to think about and illustrate the strategy for plasma physics and fusion in this period of large interest, opportunities, and changes for fusion research.

Why the emphasis on collaboration?

Collaboration is crucial in both plasma physics and enabling technology because the challenges are still very significant. They go across all fields of physics and technology, and their interfaces and interconnections. We need all hands on deck to address these challenges, and so is to combine expertise wherever it is, without frontiers. International cohesion is not only needed but also a motivation in itself for the fusion program.”

What role do you see fusion energy playing in addressing global challenges like energy security and climate change?

Fusion is set to provide a significant contribution to the production of base-load electricity. It promises to be safe, economically attractive, available for all, and compatible with sustainable development. We need to take risks at a reasonable level in our developments to move as rapidly as possible to a demonstration fusion plant. We think we need about 20 years to start operating such a demonstrator, which will produce hundreds of MW (megawatts) of net electricity and generate its own fuel, while minimizing wastes.

What is your key message for your readers?

That we need to change gears in our approach and concentrate on the remaining gaps towards a fusion power plant. We need to take advantage of ITER developments and experiments and proceed as much as possible in parallel to it to address these gaps, as well as their integration.

The academic and public R&D community is aware of these gaps and has the scientific and technological background, but it needs to partner up with private and industrial entities to design and develop the first demonstration reactor, which necessitates a fully industrial approach. We also must take advantage together of the technologically innovative approaches that are issued from many fields related to fusion science and engineering and can help proceed swiftly towards the power plant.

Ambrogio’s essay “Overcoming the Obstacles to a Magnetic Fusion Power Plant” is now available and accessible on the PRL website: https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevLett.130.220001

Professor Ambrogio Fasoli; picture courtesy of Professor Ambrogio Fasoli

Professor Ambrogio Fasoli is the Director of the Swiss Plasma Center at EPFL, the Chair of the General Assembly of the European Consortium for Fusion Energy EUROfusion, and the Associate Vice President for Research at EPFL.

Ambrogio Fasoli studied at the University of Milan and obtained his PhD at EPFL. After conducting experiments on the European JET tokamak, he became a professor at MIT, where he worked from 1997 to 2001 before being appointed at EPFL. From 2014 through 2020 he has been the Editor-in-Chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s journal Nuclear Fusion. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

Courtesy of the Swiss Plasma Center at EPFL
Courtesy of EPFL Laboratory for Experimental Museology (eM+)
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