Philippe Cara, IFMIF/EVEDA Project Leader

Philippe Cara, Project Leader of IFMIF/EVEDA, works at the forefront of the international race towards nuclear fusion. Mr Cara has led the LIPAc accelerator project in Rokkasho for three years, a key infrastructure for the construction of IFMIF-DONES.

-As leader of the LIPAc accelerator project in Rokkasho of the EVEDA phase (IFMIF Engineering Validation and Engineering Design Activities) which broke the ion current world record in 2019, what do you think is the role of this scientific infrastructure in the race towards fusion?

-The IFMIF/EVEDA project started in 2007 with the objective to proceed with the Engineering Validation activities of main facilities (Test facility, Target Facility and Accelerator Facility) comprising a Fusion Neutron Source Plant such as IFMIF-DONES.

The engineering validation of the Test and Target facilities was completed respectively in 2015 and 2017, providing important input data for the engineering design of the IFMIF-DONES. However, the Accelerator Facility is still under validation at Rokkasho (Japan).

From my stand point, the validation of the accelerator also known as the Linear IFMIF Prototype Accelerator (LIPAc) is very challenging and it has an upmost important role in the decision making to mitigate the risks of the construction of DONES. The challenges are varied, from the validation of the accelerator components to the collaboration of multicultural teams. Indeed thanks to a successful collaboration, a significant project milestone has been reached (125 mA Deuteron beam @ 5 MeV. 1 ms pulse) in 2019 demonstrating that a high current beam could be transported through all the components designed for this configuration of LIPAc. Our next challenges are to demonstrate the continuous mode and the thermo-mechanical stability in such operation conditions.

One should keep in mind that the purpose of IFMIF DONES is to validate and qualify the candidate materials for the future fusion reactor (i.e. DEMO) by exposing them to a continuous flow of high energy neutrons reproducing the arch environment inside the reactor. Consequently, it is obvious that the LIPAc infrastructure has an important role at least for the validation of the equipment to be manufactured, for the optimization of the reliability and for the definition the operation procedures required to run such machine.

-What scientific, technical, and organisational lessons have been learnt in LIPAc applicable to IFMIF-DONES?

-Considering the current situation and the necessity to collaborate with different research institutes in this international environment, the main lessons learnt have been the need to define a proper organization in order to ensure a smooth ramp up of the activities and to define common and realistic objectives agreeable by the stakeholders and the governance. To draw an analogy, when you want to build your own house, first you define what you want (e.g. the layout of your rooms, choice of your equipment, etc.) and once it is well defined you start with the foundation before starting the construction of the walls. It is basic but essential. The time you spend at the beginning is the time you will save in the future avoiding problems and you will be better prepared for the unavoidable ones.

Additionally, it is also important to implement adapted processes not only for quality assurance but also for engineering and management which enable you to manage and to steer your project with efficiency. The processes and the procedures produced for LIPAc are important assets because they will be applicable to DONES. They capture the scientific and technical knowledge gained by the project team and they represent the lessons learned and the developed know-how.

-Having worked with Fusion for Energy in the LIPAc accelerator (Linear IFMIF-Prototype Accelerator) and as Project Leader of IFMIF-EVEDA, you are at the frontline of the international race towards fusion energy. In your opinion, what stage of this process are we at now?

-It is really difficult to answer this question. Although a roadmap have been defined toward the first Fusion Power Plant demonstrator (DEMO), we have still a lot of challenges ahead of us and it is difficult to say how far we are to this goal.

However, along these past years, I have noticed that there is a willingness to coordinate among the different international organization involved in the research for the fusion energy. The Broader Approach (European-Japanese collaboration) is a perfect illustration of this fruitful collaboration leading to an essential support either to ITER with the JT60-SA and IFERC project or to the design of the Fusion Neutron Source DONES/A-FNS (Japan) with the IFMIF/EVEDA project. It is not an exhaustive list, many other synergies worldwide exist. So collaboration is as much important as competition in this international race. So we are now at a stage where we can pool together what we are learning from our various construction projects, in order to optimise the path to fusion energy.

-All fusion-related projects, including IFMIF-DONES, are an example of international cooperation for the greater good. In fact, Fusion for Energy’s mission is to coordinate the European participation in ITER, the largest scientific experiment in the path towards fusion energy with the participation of China, Japan, India, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. How are the political agendas and scientific efforts of these countries coordinated?

-All the large fusion-related projects have similar systems of governance, where international committees evaluate the progress from the technical and managerial points of view. In many cases, the same persons sit in the committees of different projects, and this allows them to coordinate and give feedback to the policy makers in their respective countries. Members of the various administrations meet, evaluate, and keep each other informed of the planning in each participant country.

-In seeking fusion, coordination between the EU and Japan, under the Broader Approach agreement, is essential. What is your experience having worked in Japan for so many years and what is this cooperation like?

-The Broader Approach agreement is an excellent example of a good collaboration enabling us to demonstrate that we are stronger joining our effort and expertise, and that from an economic stand-point, sharing the cost allows us to be much more ambitious.

Obviously the collaboration of the teams is one of the crucial element. This did not come automatically and it has required time to learn how to work with each other and together, and accepting, with a lot of humility, that different approaches are possible.

I had the chance to start at the beginning of the Broader Approach agreement, being involved first in JT60-SA before going to the IFMIF/EVEDA project in 2010, and I realize the benefit on my professional development and personal approach. I appreciate how we grew up in this spirit of collaboration to become now one international team working in the same direction. For sure, this will be an asset for continuing what we are doing in Japan but also for initiating future projects where the collaboration with Japan will be the cornerstone.

-In 2017, Fusion for Energy assessed favourably Granada’s candidacy to host IFMIF-DONES, after reaching an agreement with Croatia. What are the strengths of this candidacy?

-One of the main strengths of this candidacy is the consensus reached among the Europeans, after an assessment of the different dossiers, which was reinforced by this agreement with Croatia. In addition, Spain has also invested a lot in the IFMIF/EVEDA project as voluntary contributor, and by being always a key player, is in a position to take full benefit of the LIPAc development and commissioning plan in the design validation of the DONES accelerator.

Recently, we have strengthened our ties even further by interfacing our projects. In the coming months, increased collaboration between the different projects is expected with mutual support. The essential on-site support provided already by the Early Neutron Source project in the frame of EUROfusion should be extended also into the frame of the DONES PreP project, with the arrival of new on-site support for the LIPAc operation. This step is also key for capitalizing on what has been implemented at Rokkasho which is seen as lesson learning machine for DONES, and will also help to prepare the next phases with the enhancement of critical systems as well as the management of the obsolescence.

-Do you believe the EU and Japan will reach an agreement by which DONES is finally constructed in Europe?

-I do not consider it is a competition between EU and Japan and it must not be! As highlighted previously, the IFMIF/EVEDA project last since 2007 and ever since we are working together. The new phase of the Broader Approach has been endorsed last March and confirmed this commitment. Having two Fusion Neutron Source plants should not be seen as a problem. The selection and the qualification processes of the materials to be used on the Fusion Reactor will be a very long effort, and having two plants could be a distinct advantage in the race toward fusion.

Whether decision is taken to build DONES, A-FNS, or both, we have to consider that Europe and Japan will continue this close partnership.

-Is the current pandemic affecting other international nuclear fusion-related projects? Will there be any significant delays?

-From what I have observed, obviously this pandemic has affected our project and it was necessary to adapt to the current situation mitigating the impact. As far as LIPAc is concerned, we seized also the opportunity to adjust the project management and our processes such as our quality assurance. Remote participation tools have been developed, as well as the operation procedures which will enable us to gain in quality and efficiency on the long run. Therefore, I tend to conclude that on the long run, the interval caused by the pandemic has not been a waste of time. The organisation enhancement developed will be an important input for the future neutron source plant and it could serve any future projects.

-Most scientific and technological development of this research phase has been financed with public funds. Since the industrial production of electricity through fusion is not in the near future, what can be said about the current practical applications of what is known today thanks to ITER and IFMIF-EVEDA? Is it already affecting the daily lives of people who have contributed towards research through the payment of taxes? In other words, what new materials, technologies or administrative focus in multilateral negotiation processes are currently being used?

-It is a legitimate question that must be answered. The public funds used to support these scientific and technological developments are generating know-how and innovation and the Fusion for Energy patent portfolio is the perfect example. Fostering innovation is the key element of economic growth to support the development of the European companies in particular the Small and Medium-sized Enterprise (SME). The collaboration with Japan opened up new markets with more international visibility for these companies. In our mission of collaboration with Japan, the industrial collaboration between the SMEs and the research institutes is often not visible. Many processes used in the fabrication of ITER and LIPAc components are now used in the other industries to provide competitive products; many of our engineers trained on these public funded projects have been recruited by private industries for their high technological skills.

-Are facilities such as IFMIF-DONES safe from an environmental and health point of view?

-The impact on the environment and the population is our primary business, safety first as we say, and its scrutiny is our interest. It is an utmost importance to remove all the concerns which can be raised.

Each industrial facility presents some risks, so IFMIF-DONES will have risks but they will be identified and assessed with mitigation measures. It is the purpose of the engineering design of the facility to identify and to assess all these risks and to mitigate all of them as required by the authorities. I would add that the safety awareness developed during the LIPAc project will make next facilities such as IFMIF-DONES even safer.