By Teresa Ewen
Day Four continued with a lecture by Univ.-Prof. Dr. Harald Weber, who is a physicist and works at the Institute of Atomic and Subatomic Physics of the Vienna University of Technology. He does research on nuclear fusion as a possible energy solution for the future. Although the lecture was pretty technical, it gave an impression of the massive (and costly) research on nuclear fusion and which countries participate in it. The presentation mainly focused on the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in France. The EU is the main sponsor of this project, but the main players of the developed world (USA, Russia, Japan, India, Korea and China) are also involved. Each country contributes components and know-how in different areas.
The construction of the fusion plant in France is literally a huge undertaking. Building the plant is very complicated, because fusion will be economically profitable only if the plant is of very large scale. Moreover, there is little experience since all previous test devices were much smaller and up-scaling the technology represents a highly demanding challenge. The time-frame for the activation of ITER lies between 2020 and 2026. The EU aims at finally producing energy from fusion technology somewhere between 2040 and 2050.
Will nuclear energy be the future?
Mr. Weber mentioned that the inside of the fusion plant will be contaminated once it is used, but research especially on structural materials to reduce their radioactivity is vigorously pursued. It became clear that nuclear fusion could be an important step to solve energy shortages and crises because of the abundant resources, their equal distribution around the world and the lack of CO2 emissions. The road to fusion energy is still very long though and may face barriers due to budgetary constraints and/or cuts.
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