Currently nuclear fusion is deemed as one of the options useful to ensure a large-scale, safe, environmentally-friendly and virtually inexhaustible source of energy.
Frascati Tokamak Upgrade (FTU), operating at the ENEA Frascati Research Centre, is a nuclear fusion machine operating at the highest magnetic field (8 T). It allows to study plasmas under physical conditions otherwise not achievable in other ITER-related machines
Italy is one of nuclear fusion research pioneers. At their very beginning in the Frascati Research Centre, at the end of the ‘50s, activities were mainly focussed on plasma experiments. They subsequently evolved to develop a complex physics, technology and engineering system where ENEA is the leading actor and the national programme coordinator. With an average €60M budget, such programme involves ENEA, CNR, Consorzio RFX and a number of universities and university consortia with a staff of about 600 researchers and technologists collaborating to develop globally significant excellence know-how and expertise.
Nuclear fusion research in ENEA is particularly centred both on magnetic confinement – with activities relating to plasma physics and development of reactor technologies – and on inertial confinement. All these activities are part of the EURATOM nuclear fusion programme and involve the EU and Switzerland by way of collaborations with several international research institutions and universities.
As far as plasma physics for magnetic confinement is concerned, ENEA performs specific tests with the Frascati Tokamak Upgrade (FTU), a tokamak allowing to study plasmas at high and high-density magnetic fields: FTU is the fusion machine operating at the highest magnetic field (8 T). It allows to study plasmas under physical conditions otherwise not achievable in other machines.
Medium-scale prototype of the ITER vertical divertor panel made of tungsten tiles (flat side) and carbon fibre (curved side). It has been developed by ENEA in collaboration with Ansaldo Ricerche
With regard to technologies, since the 1980s in the Frascati Labs many nuclear fusion technologies have been developed based on the most consolidated laboratory knowledge which could also interest and involve the national industry for applications far beyond the ones specific to nuclear fusion. The lines developed within the laboratories have often been dedicated mainly to superconducting magnets, high-heat-flux plasma-facing components, materials, remote handling, neutronics and nuclear data, liquid-metal technology, and safety.
Nuclear fusion research involves all the most technologically advanced countries (EU, Japan, USA, Russia, China, Korea, and India) which – within international collaboration agreements – decided to concentrate their efforts towards a common programme targeted at building the experimental fusion reactor ITER. ITER will produce a 500 MW fusion power for 400 s, with a power gain of a factor of 10. The building of ITER started in 2007 in the Cadarache site. It represents a milestone in nuclear fusion energy development and actually is strongly accelerating the process leading to a commercial reactor through the realization of a demonstration reactor, DEMO.
ENEA actively participates in the ITER project by contributing to the design of many components, the definition of physical scenarios, the design of plasma diagnostics and heating systems. ENEA know-how makes the Agency play a key role in the ITER project as it operates in close collaboration with industry. Thanks to its involvement in the nuclear fusion research programme, the Italian industry has obtained the largest orders for the construction of ITER core components: superconducting cables, the European share of superconducting magnets (9 coils out of a total of 18), and the vacuum chamber (7 sectors out of 9) besides other orders for a total amount of about 500 million euros.
Cross-section of a conductor for the ITER toroidal magnetic field coils, manufactured by TRATOS Cavi di Pieve Santo Stefano (AR) under ENEA supervision
In collaboration with industry, ENEA has also developed the joining technologies for high heat flux components (divertor), the optical radar technology (laser) for metrology in hostile environments. Together with other European laboratories, ENEA participates in the development of the Radial Neutron Camera, a system dedicated to the measurement of fusion power, and of the tritium breeding blanket test modules by way of tests on fuel cycle (tritium treatment and reprocessing), and neutronic and safety analyses.
The EU is structuring an ITER Accompanying Programme with the aim of optimizing its scientific exploitation and providing the information required for the DEMO parameter definition. To this purpose, the EU and Japan co-signed a broader bilateral collaboration agreement, called ‘Broader Approach’, to carry out activities aimed at developing energy from nuclear fusion.
ENEA participates in the Broader Approach projects with its Frascati and Brasimone Research Centres particularly contributing to the realization of: superconducting magnets and the electric power supply system of the JT60-SA tokamak reactor, an ITER satellite being constructed in Japan; the neutron source IFMIF (International Fusion Material Irradiation Facility) lithium target aimed at developing materials for the fusion reactor; the creation of the International Fusion Energy Research Centre (IFERC). The overall effort for these activities amounts to 50 million euros approximately.
ENEA considers nuclear fusion as a priority. Hence, for the following years, together with other research institutions and university groups belonging to the Euratom-ENEA Fusion Association, the Agency has worked out a programme of activities which takes into account ITER, the Broader Approach and the related EU accompanying project. Such programme is based on the following key points:
Inner vision system of the ITER vessel. Laboratory prototype based on the optical radar technology developed by ENEA
FAST will be the reference point of experimentation not only for Italy but also for the other EU laboratories. It will allow to study deuterium plasmas and the dynamics of alpha particles generated within plasmas at close-to-ignition conditions, in a simple and economic plant, without the complications deriving from the use of tritium.
Greatest importance is given to ENEA training activities in the field. Its laboratories host a significant number of students, fellows and senior year students, in a very stimulating international, multidiscipline, scientific environment.
The main R&D activities are as follows:
Technical Unit for Brasimone Experimental Engineering
Head: Pietro Agostini
- ENERGIA DA FUSIONE. Stato prospettive e ricadute industriali, 2009
- Fascicolo 1/2009 di "Energia, Ambiente e Innovazione"
- Dossier ENEA e la ricerca sul nucleare, 10 aprile 2008
- EURATOM-ENEA ASSOCIATION Fusion Activities - Progress Report 2008
- 1960 –2010. 50 anni di ricerca sulla fusione in Italia/ 50 years of fusion research in Italy