Foreword

Memorablia
   
'Fifty Years of Magnetic Confinement Fusion - A Retrospective'
 
   

“Celebrating fifty years of fusion… …
entering into the burning plasma era.”
 
 

 














Werner Burkart

Deputy Director General,
Nuclear Sciences and Applications

 

 

Energy in all its forms has always driven human development. New technologies in energy production, starting from the use of fire itself, have driven economic and social development. In the mid-1950s, nuclear energy created new hope for an abundant source of that energy for the world.

To promote this groundbreaking technology, and to host a neutral ground for substantive scientific debate, the United Nations in 1955 organized the first of a series of conferences in Geneva on the “Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy”. Providing an opportunity for scientists from all countries to showcase their research, these conferences came to be recognized as essential platforms for the further development of nuclear energy.

The main topic of the second UN Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, held in 1958 in Geneva, was nuclear fusion. Imbued with a sense of purpose and hope for the common good, in an atmosphere of innovation and exchange, scientists from different political backgrounds freely discussed their recently declassified results and outlined their expectations for the future. With Sigvard Eklund, the future Director General of the IAEA, serving as Secretary General of the conference, about 5000 delegates, observers and guests discussed over 2150 papers, 105 covering fusion topics. In addition, a number of exhibits highlighted the possibilities of harnessing fusion power. However, it was recognized that  technical issues related to the extremely high temperatures involved in fusion and to the neutron and gamma flux were so complex that the prediction by the American physicist Edward Teller that the exploitation of fusion energy would be possible before the end of the 20th century was not likely to come true.

The major breakthrough finally came many years later with the invention of the tokamak. Since then, a doubling of fusion quality, described by the fusion triple product, has been achieved every 1.8 years. New developments in science and engineering have led to an optimized magnetic prototype reactor, with corresponding cost savings. Inertial confinement experiments have achieved similar progress. The culmination of international collaborative efforts in fusion is the start of construction of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), the biggest scientific endeavour the world has ever seen involving States with more than half of the world’s population.

The IAEA has been closely involved in the area of nuclear fusion, mainly through its biennial Fusion Energy Conferences. Fifty years of international cooperation in fusion research is being celebrated this year at the 22nd Fusion Energy Conference, held at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, the starting point of discussions back in 1958. This commemorative booklet contains a brief history of international fusion research activities as well as anecdotes by distinguished scientists.

Nuclear fusion continues to attract attention as a clean and reliable source of energy, holding promise as a global solution for tackling the problems of poverty, economic development and climate change. Fusion energy, as developed through ITER, has the potential to play an important role in humanity’s intensified quest for adequate energy sources.

Werner Burkart

Deputy Director General,
Nuclear Sciences and Applications

 
       
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