US to enter the Wendelstein 7X project

This is now official: several american labs will cooperate with the Max Planck Institute to the development of the stellarator Wendelstein 7X (W7X) located in Greifswald.


Assembly of W7X - Credits Max Planck Institute for Plasma physics

You will find a good technical overview of the project in this presentation by T. Klinger.

One one hand, the physics of a stellarator is a bit simpler than the physics of tokamaks. On the other hand, the engineering can be seen as a nightmare because the facility is not axi-symmetric: just have a look at the shape of each coil: they all are unique.

Configuration of magnetic coils on W7X - Credit MPI-Plasma Physics

W7X will be the biggest stellarator in operation and has a budget of about 420M€; it should start in 2015.

The project was, at its beginning, controversial, because most of the funding was supported by Germany (with 30% help of the European Union) and it was seen as a competitor of ITER: some people did not see the point of spending some much on several big fusion facilities.  In addition, given the complexity, the project faced schedule and cost challenges. But the management was improved in the german way and now the construction is really on a good track. I find the smoothness very impressing, at least in comparison with ITER. But there is, I think, a good reason for this difference: there is only one main contributor, Germany. Just one head to drive and the management of interfaces becomes easier. Of course, there are other countries involved, especially Poland, but the decision process is far clearer than on ITER.

The participation of the US is a very good sign that the project is in good shape. Indeed, the budget allocated to magnetic confinement fusion is quite low (lower than on Inertial Fusion, which is also supported by military budgets) there and they already have several machines (DIII-D, Alcator C-Mod,… ) to run. I have, for instance, the feeling that ITER is not one of their priorities. That they are ready to collaborate in a foreign project, is really a very good news.

For those who are interested to work there (and they often have open positions), these are some pictures of the city of Greifswald (which has a big university):

But with hard winters!


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