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Greetings from the top
Yasuhiko TAKEIRI

Solar energy, which is the source of life on Earth, and the energy of stars glowing in the night sky both are born of nuclear fusion. If we can achieve on Earth the fusion energy that has been produced in space without pause since the Big Bang 13,700,000,000 years ago, the human race will gain never-ending energy. At the National Institute for Fusion Science we aim at achieving fusion energy from the earth’s sun, and we are advancing academic research that extends broadly across science and engineering.

In nuclear fusion, the nuclei of hydrogen isotopes fuse, and we use the immense amount of energy that is generated when the hydrogen nuclear nuclei becomes the heavier helium and produces energy. Because the fuels deuterium and lithium are found in seawater in nearly inexhaustible amounts, there is no worry of the supply running out. Further, because the fusion reaction does not emit carbon dioxide, there is no strain placed upon the environment, and they are excellent in terms of safety. In order to achieve this dream of fusion energy, fuel gas must be converted into the plasma condition in which the ions and the electrons have become separated and raised to the high temperature of more than 120,000,000 degrees. Because such a high-temperature plasma cannot be maintained in a conventional container, it is confined using the magnetic field and floats inside the vacuum vessel so that it does not touch the wall. However, this is not simple. High-temperature plasma seeks to escape from the magnetic field container, engaging in complicated movement from the central part to the edge. While solving each of these phenomena one by one through scholarly processes we raise the plasma’s temperature seeking the fusion conditions. In order to do that we need not only experimental research, but also theory and simulation research derived from utilizing supercomputers. Further, in order to achieve energy using plasma that has met the fusion conditions, development of engineering research and design research for the entire fusion power plant system in areas such as fuel supply, energy conversion, and material development is necessary.

At the National Institute for Fusion Science, using the world’s largest superconducting large-scale device, Large Helical Device (LHD), based upon an idea unique to Japan called the heliotron system, we are advancing greatly in a research project through high-temperature plasma experiments using the magnetic field. In addition, we are organically linking the numerical simulation research project utilizing theory and simulation, and the fusion engineering research project for the engineering design leading toward a model reactor for conducting fusion power generation. Thus we are organically linking these three projects and developing academic research aimed toward achieving a helical-type fusion reactor. NIFS is an Inter-University Research Institute, and through joint research with scholars at other research institutes and universities we are advancing in research at the world’s highest level. In addition, we also are actively developing international joint research with scholars in research institutes abroad.

Since the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, awareness of using less energy has increased in Japan, and some people are saying that “further energy development is not necessary.” However, turning our attention to the world, it is clear that there is expanding demand for energy on a global scale due to the explosive population growth and economic development concentrated in developing countries. Further, the increase in carbon dioxide due to continued use of fossil fuels and the depletion of fuel resources, too, will become serious issues. More than 50 years have passed since the development of fusion energy began, and this energy is also continuously called an energy of one’s “dream.” However, the generation of fusion energy through ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) is planned for 2027, and research has developed such that actual generation through a prototype reactor 25 to 30 years in the future may be achieved. At NIFS, we also are pouring energy into fostering human resources who will realize the generation of fusion power in the future, centering on The Graduate University for Advanced Studies (Sokendai) and partner graduate schools.

In this way, the National Institute for Fusion Science stands at the forefront of the world’s research into fusion energy, and is advancing research aimed at achieving the generation of fusion power. Please visit our research facilities, which are at the world’s leading edge.

April 2015