Australian scientists sign historic deal with ITER, the next step fusion experiment

Friday 30 September 2016

The agreement is the culmination of over a decade of strategic planning for Australia to participate in the ITER project.

The Cooperation Agreement signed on 30 September marks a ''new model'' for engaging in ITER. Pictured: ITER Director-General Bernard Bigot (left) and ANSTO Chief Executive Officer Adi Paterson.
The Cooperation Agreement signed on 30 September marks a ''new model'' for engaging in ITER. Pictured: ITER Director-General Bernard Bigot (left) and ANSTO Chief Executive Officer Adi Paterson.

For the first time in its history, the ITER Organization has established a formal path to technical collaboration with a non-Member state: Australia. On Friday 30 September 2016, the ITER Organization signed a Cooperation Agreement with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), a national research organization representing the Australian nuclear fusion community for the purposes of the Agreement.

A framework is now in place for technical cooperation in areas of mutual interest and benefit.

For Australia's active community of fusion scientists and engineers, this formal welcome from the ITER Organization and the seven ITER Members to engage directly in the ITER Project is an achievement that has been a long time in the making.

With a tradition of fusion research dating back a half century, Australia has the technical means and human capital to contribute meaningfully to the ITER Project. For decades—both individually and grouped within the Australia ITER Forum—researchers have lobbied for closer involvement in ITER.

Within the framework of the new agreement, it now becomes possible for Australia to contribute directly to the machine in small but important areas and for Australian researchers to participate in research collaborations at ITER, including the International Tokamak Physics Activity, which is the framework for internationally coordinated fusion research activities on ITER physics. Cooperation is envisioned in a number of strategic areas, including diagnostics, fusion plasma theory and modelling, materials and superconducting technology.

"This a fundamental change," says David Campbell, who heads ITER's Science & Operations Department. "Although the fusion R&D activities in the ITER Members make up the vast majority of the international research program on fusion energy development, this is a first step in expanding our research collaborations into the wider fusion community, where there is significant, and in some cases unique, expertise. There is considerable potential for both the Australian and ITER fusion communities in such collaboration."

The agreement is the culmination of over a decade of strategic planning for Australia to participate in the ITER project, including multiple workshops and two strategic plans.  A/Prof. Matthew Hole, Chair of the Australian ITER Forum, and an expert in toroidal magnetic confinement physics from the ANU, remarks “this agreement is a real coup for Australian science, and will open opportunities for a generation of Australian scientists”.

One example is the design of a coherence imaging diagnostic, developed by Em/Prof. John Howard of the ANU, which will measure flows in the divertor of ITER.  Another is the opportunity for Australian scientists to fully participate in the International Tokamak Physics Activity. To date Australian scientists have been restricted to observer status in these meetings.

The 2014 fusion science strategic plan of the community, compiled by the Australian ITER Forum, the ANU and ANSTO, advocated that the ANSTO be the formal body through Australian engagement with ITER was secured.  This chance for closer involvement in ITER came about when the fusion community encountered an advocate in Adi Paterson, the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO).  "It's an excellent fit for us," says the ANSTO Chief Executive Officer. "We're interested in strengthening international linkages ... we understand large scale projects ... we have been the custodian of Australia's relationship with CERN for years. Our experience will allow us to articulate for the government what the interest of ITER can be and act a translator and portal for our research communities."  Initial Australian participating institutions include the ANU, the University of Sydney, Curtin University, the University of Newcastle, the University of Wollongong and Macquarie University.

At the signature ceremony, the ITER Director-General Bernard Bigot celebrated a "new model of engagement that is fully compliant with the ITER Agreement"—a way of participating in ITER outside of full membership. "We look forward to Australia contributing solutions directly to our machine in small but important domains."

 

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