Australia helping to crack fusion power, bringing the energy of the sun down to earth for a zero carbon future

Australian Institute of Physics Congress, Media releases

bannerTuesday 6 December 2016

It’s the world’s biggest experiment—a multi-billion machine, with first results in 2025.

Speakers from around the world, including senior advisor to the ITER project Professor Jean Jacquinot, will speak at the Physics Congress in Brisbane about the global race to master the process that powers our sun. Researchers from ANU will speak about Australia’s involvement. 

The key to a low carbon future is a huge fusion experiment being built in the south of France. ITER will be ten times hotter than the core of the sun, and will (hopefully) produce hundreds of megawatts of power.

Jean Jacquinot, long term advisor on the project will share the hopes and dreams of fusion scientists all over the world, as ITER’s construction gains momentum, thanks to an unprecedented collaboration between nations representing over a third of the world’s population.

The challenges are huge: holding 200 million degree-hot hydrogen gas in a magnetic donut, finding a wall material that can withstand the bombardment of a burning fusion reactor—neutrons with five times the energy of a conventional nuclear reactor—and efficiently converting that energy into electricity.

But Jacquinot says the pay-offs are huge—baseload power from essentially limitless fuel that is found in sea water, in a process that can’t meltdown and doesn’t create greenhouse gases or long-lived radioactive waste.

ITER is a collaboration between historically strong fusion research countries, EU, Russia, and the US with more recent comers to the world stage in Asia.

Three of those, China, Korea and Japan have started a collaboration to propel their technology forwards, which Professor Shigeru Morita will describe. Fusion physicist Dr Yueqiang Liu will describe the EAST fusion reactor in China. Many believe that, with their available research resources, China will be the first to demonstrate a fusion power plant.

Australia is playing our part too. Last month the ITER Organization signed an agreement with ANSTO that will enable Australian scientists to participate in ITER and the Integrated Tokamak Physics Activity (ITPA), the international body that coordinates ITER research. Australian speakers at the Congress include:

  • Associate Professor Matthew Hole, who leads a group from the Australian National University (ANU) in the simulation and modelling of fusion plasmas—including modelling of plasma flow and anisotropy, through to 3D-modelling. He is the Program Chair of the Plasma Physics session at the Congress, Vice Chair of the Division of the Plasma Physics of the Association of Asia Pacific Physical Societies, and Chairs the Australian ITER Forum, a consortium of over 180 scientists and engineers in support of an Australian engagement in ITER. A meeting of the Forum is scheduled at the Congress to discuss possibilities for closer integration in ITER science.
  • Professor John Howard, also from the ANU has pioneered technology for imaging the flows and temperature of the hundred-million degree gases inside a fusion reactor, and has been contracted to prepare conceptual designs for an installation on ITER. The ANSTO- ITER Organization agreement could see Australia secure highly prized port space required for locating their equipment on ITER. “The agreement is a great opportunity for Australian high-tech industries to be a part of the multi-billion-euro construction project,” says John.
  • Matt Thompson, a PhD researcher from the ANU, who is studying how a tungsten fusion reactor wall will cope with a burning plasma at hundred-million degrees. Using the Australian Synchrotron as an x-ray probe, he has found tiny bubbles and tungsten nano-fuzz which form after exposure to the plasma—discoveries he thinks may be put to work in sensor or chemical technology. Matt and his supervisor Cormac Corr, were recently invited to present the results of these studies to the ITPA.

Adi Paterson (CEO ANSTO), Mike Walsh (Head of ITER diagnostics) and John Howard at the ITER site last month (credit David Campbell, ITER)

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