China: Govt to train 2,000 fusion experts

By Chen Jia (China Daily) Updated: 2011-05-26 07:56
Republished here on Jan. 5, 2016

BEIJING – China is planning to train 2,000 skilled experts to carry out research and development into a promising form of nuclear fusion that could become a major new source of power.

The scientists and technicians will lead the nation’s exploration of magnetic confinement fusion (MCF) and be trained during the next 10 years, said the Ministry of Science and Technology.

“China is trying to dispatch more qualified scientists to work on the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in France,” said Cao Jianlin, vice-minister of science and technology.

The ITER reactor under construction in Europe is being financially supported by many countries and experts hope it will help them learn how to effectively produce power through nuclear fusion.

China contributes 10 percent of the funding for the multi-billion-dollar project but is only supplying 5 percent of the scientists working on the initiative.

Among the 21 Chinese people taking part in the project are 17 in skilled positions and four in management roles, according to the latest data released by the ministry.

The ITER Agreement, signed in November 2006, came into effect in October 2007 and has an initial duration of 35 years, although it can be extended for an additional 10 years.

The United States and the Soviet Union initiated the ITER project in the mid-1980s and China has participated since February 2003.

The new type of reactor has been described as an “artificial sun” because it creates conditions that are similar to those occurring in solar nuclear fusion reactions.

Unlike today’s nuclear power plants, which split atoms in nuclear fission reactions, the experimental reactor in France will attempt to fuse smaller nuclei together into larger ones, a process that unleashes huge quantities of heat and light.

Chinese engineers and scientists will be responsible for building components, such as heating, diagnostic and remote maintenance equipment, as well as transporting it to Cadarache in the south of France, where the ITER reactor will be built.

“The ITER is related to 34 core scientific engineering technologies and management subjects,” Wan Yuanxi, dean of the school of nuclear science and technology under the University of Science and Technology of China, said last month.

“Chinese researchers only work on 11 of them, which means we have no involvement in more than 60 percent of its core scientific engineering technologies and management subjects.”

Insiders told China Daily that international cooperation abilities and foreign language skills are two challenges for Chinese researchers involved in ITER.

“We urgently need to build a system for training researchers in both universities and institutes nationwide,” Cao said.

A total of 1,254 researchers have been involved with MCF-related projects in China, he added.

In order to build up a supporting research system that will assist MCF work, the country will prioritize the development of subjects, including physics, electrical engineering and materials science, according to a guideline jointly released in April by the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Education, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the China National Nuclear Corporation.

The guideline also suggests expanding the enrollment of students taking master’s degrees related to MCF, and recommended that at least 200 people be supported in their studies for MCF-connected doctor’s degrees.