In pursuit to harness the power of the Sun – opportunities for Lithuanian science community

On 23-24 of May, 2018, Prof. Dr. Tony Donné the Programme Manager (CEO) of EUROfusion – European consortium for thermonuclear fusion research – visited Lithuania, where meetings were held with representatives of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Lithuania and the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences. Mr. Donné presented the European Union’s Roadmap to the realisation of Fusion Energy and invited Lithuania’s science community to take part in multitude of research opportunities available in effort to realise fusion-powered electricity by year 2050. The meetings were organized by Lithuanian Energy Institute (LEI) which represents Lithuania as a signatory research unit in the Consortium.

To harness the power of thermonuclear fusion that naturally occurs in the stars is one of Science’s greatest challenges, which Europe, together with USA, Japan, China, Russia, South Korea and India, is determined to tackle. Fusion power is clean and safe energy technology: no CO2 emissions are generated during the reaction, no long-term radioactive waste is produced, the technology is unsuitable for use in nuclear weaponry and reaction fuel (hydrogen isotopes) is abundant on Earth.

EUROfusion is a consortium of national fusion research institutes located in the European Union, Switzerland and the Ukraine. It was established in 2014 to succeed the European Fusion Development Agreement (EFDA) as the umbrella organisation of Europe’s fusion research laboratories. The consortium is currently funded by the Euratom Horizon 2020 programme. The consortium consists of 28 European signatory countries and over 150 universities, research institutes and industries from all over the continent and carries out thermonuclear fusion research, provides support and assistance to experts in the field and trains students and young researchers. EUROfusion funds research in devices across Europe where specific experiments are performed towards one common goal of realizing fusion electricity. This includes fusion plasma experiments run in JET (Joint European Torus – EUROfusion’s flagship device), in a number of medium sized tokamaks and in a special stellarator-type device Wendelstein 7-X as well as a variety of materials research experiments: materials subject to high-energy neutron radiation, temperatures up to 200 million degrees Celsius and strong magnetic fields.

At the center of EUROfusion research is ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor). Currently being built in France, it is a project undertaken by 36 countries across the globe. ITER will pave the way to practical fusion power. EUROfusion plans beyond ITER project, for DEMO, a demonstration power plant feeding generated electricity back to the grid and proving that fusion energy can help solve future energy demand.

EUROfusion’s work is structured around a Roadmap to the realisation of Fusion Energy, which was presented by Prof. Dr. Tony Donné to members of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences. The Roadmap lays out how fusion researchers across Europe can work on common programme of achieving fusion electricity. The Roadmap outlines steps involved in hooking fusion energy to the electricity grid: (1) Plasma Regimes of Operation research; (2) Heat-Exhaust Systems research; (3) Neutron Resistant Materials research (4) ensuring Tritium Self-Sufficiency; (5) Intrinsic Safety Features Implementation; (6) Integrated DEMO design; (7) reaching competitive cost of electricity; (8) researching Stellarator technology as an alternative to tokamak design.

In order to achieve the goal of fusion electricity innovation is required, new materials and technological processes need to be developed and thus a broad array of research is needed. During the meeting with Vice-Minister Giedrius Viliūnas and an Adviser to the Minister Eugenijus Butkus at the Ministry of Education of Science, the meeting at the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences as well as during his keynote presentation at LEI’s annual international Conference of Young Energy Scientists on Energy Issues (CYSENI 2018) Prof. Donne invited Lithuanian science community to take part in multitude of available research opportunities.


LEI and Fusion research

Lithuanian energy institute carried out its first fusion research project back in 2006. It was ITER safety assessment project and was carried out under the European Union’s 6th Framework Programme. Since 2007 LEI joined the European Fusion Development Agreement (EFDA) and coordinated fusion related research in Lithuania, in which LEI, together with scientists of Theoretical Physics and Astronomy Institute of Vilnius University, actively took part. EU’s “Horizon 2020” Programme was started in 2014 and EFDA was transitioned into EUROfusion project, coordinated by the Max-Planck Institute of Plasma Physics (Germany).

LEI’s Laboratory of Nuclear Installation Safety contributed to Fusion research by performing safety analysis for ITER (for cases of explosion of hydrogen accumulated in different components), safety assessment of the reactor cooling system and plasma vessel welding seams of Stellarator Wendelstein 7-X (in operation since 2016). Under EUROfusion LEI participates in research linked with experiments performed  in JET (research of dose rate, neutron activation, decay heat, identification of dominant isotopes, etc.). Research related to DEMO has become LEI’s main activity in EUROfusion. LEI researchers are responsible for development of methodology for assessment of uncertainty in safety analysis, DEMO reactor safety and equipment reliability research as well as materials research experiments carried out in DONES (International Fusion Materials Irradiation Facility – DEMO-Oriented Neutron Source). DONES is an accelerator-type d-Li neutron source the purpose of which is to analyze structural and functional materials to be used in DEMO fusion reactor.

LEI representative Prof. Habil. Dr. Eugenijus Ušpuras (Head of Laboratory of Nuclear Installation Safety) was present at both meetings and seconded Mr. Donné, in extending the invitation to join hundreds of scientists, engineers, technicians and students from Europe and across the globe in the joint effort to achieve Fusion electricity.