[ASC-media] Fusion energy opportunities for Australia

Sarah Brooker sarah.brooker at gmail.com
Wed Oct 11 23:15:25 CEST 2006


Millions of years of clean power generation with virtually no greenhouse gas
emissions - that, say Australian experts, is the promise of nuclear fusion.
And they want Australia to be part of the $16 billion international effort
to turn it into reality. 

Thursday 12 October 2006

Seventy two years ago an Australian, Sir Mark Oliphant, discovered fusion -
the reaction that powers the Sun and stars. 

Scientists from around the world meet in Sydney this Thursday and Friday to
discuss how fusion can be captured and contained, and to see what role
Australia can play in ITER - the experimental fusion reactor being
constructed in France, and also the world's largest science project. 

"We need to be part of the journey," says Matthew Hole, Chair of the
Australian ITER Forum and a research fellow in the Research School of
Physical Sciences and Engineering at the Australian National University. 

"Fusion could bring energy security, and slash greenhouse gas emissions," he
says.  

And Australia has expertise to bring to the party with expertise in
modelling plasma - the ionised gases at the heart of the fusion reactor that
will reach perhaps ten times the temperature of the heart of the sun,
measuring plasma properties, and in developing the materials that will be
needed to help contain the plasma. 

However, despite Australia's early leadership in fusion science, we're not
yet engaged in ITER - which is set to become the world's largest science
experiment, supported by over 30 governments representing over half the
planet's population. This will inevitably lead to new Australian graduates
going overseas to work in the field and the loss of domestic capability. 

"What will it cost us to get the technology back later on? To buy back the
developed technology?" asks Dr Hole, who adds that Australia would then
likely be without the domestic knowledge base to make judgements as to what
it was buying.

Instead, says Dr Hole, joining the international fusion drive now would
increase Australia's standing in international science and engineering
fields. It would also attract home outstanding graduates who now work
overseas in international fusion programmes and inspire a new generation of
Australian students to choose a career in science and engineering.

Taking part in the AU$16 billion ITER project could also mean good news for
Australian industry. A large fraction of the cost of the project - about
AU$10 billion - will be returned to the construction and high tech sectors
in the member nations with contracts to construct the huge new machine. 

If Australia was to engage, there are potential short and long term contract
opportunities for Australian engineering and component manufacturing
industries. But without membership of ITER, Australian companies will not be
able to bid for contracts. 

Furthermore, Australia has large reserves of the materials, such as niobium,
vanadium and lithium, that are important to the development of fusion power.
ITER involvement would allow these reserves to be exploited. 
But, beyond the raw materials, what expertise would Australia bring to the
international fusion community?

According to Professor O'Connor, Head of the School of Mathematical and
Physical Science at the University of Newcastle, Australia has strengths in
two major areas - plasmas and materials, both crucial to nuclear fusion. 

For nuclear fusion to work, scientists need to create very high temperature
(up to ten times hotter than the core of the sun), stable plasmas (or
ionised gases). Australia has, at the Australian National University and the
University of Sydney, considerable strength in plasma modelling and theory,
as well as in measuring plasma properties. 

At the materials end, groups at the universities of Wollongong and Newcastle
and at ANSTO, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation,
have particular strengths which might be of interest to the international
fusion community.

"Australia has been and continues to be valuable to the international
community," says Dr Hole of the fusion related research being undertaken
here. "We have very senior international delegates coming to this Sydney
meeting because they see the ongoing contribution Australia has made. They
are coming to see the opportunity to engage Australia in ITER."

The Australian ITER Workshop will be held in Sydney Australia at the Manly
Pacific Hotel, 55 North Steyne, Manly on Thursday 12 and Friday 13 October
2006. Journalists are invited to attend.

The conference is being organised by scientists from the University of
Sydney, the Australian National University, Flinders University, University
of Canberra, the University of Newcastle, University of Wollongong, Murdoch
University, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, and
the Australian Institute for Nuclear Science and Engineering.

For interview, contact: 
Dr George Collins - 0408 202 605
Dr Matthew Hole - 0417 148 114 or
Prof John O'Connor - 0402 839 978



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