Diana Morant: “IFMIF-DONES will place Spain at the vanguard of the next technological revolution”

Diana Morant, Minister of Science and Innovation

Diana Morant, (Gandía, 1980), is the Spanish Minister of Science and Innovation since July 2021. Her agenda at the Ministry started with a major boost: the Council of Ministers has just approved her reform of the Law on Science, Technology and Innovation, on which she has been working with the main players in the sector, and with which she aims to achieve stable and growing funding for public science. The reform proposals are also aimed at attracting, retaining and regaining talent, promoting knowledge transfer, and ending the gender gap in the sector.

The projects she coordinates in her portfolio include working on science jointly with the European Union. The Centro de Investigaciones Energéticas, Medioambientales y Tecnológicas (CIEMAT), a public research body assigned to the Ministry of Science and Innovation, has promoted the construction in Spain of the research infrastructure ‘International Fusion Materials Irradiation Facility-Demo Oriented Neutron Source’ (IFMIF-DONES). This international project is also included in the current European Roadmap and has the aim of creating a large particle accelerator to study the materials that could make up future fusion reactors.

Morant has given us an interview in which she contextualises and points out the relevance of this project not only for Spain, but also for the future of energy production for humanity.

ID – The Ministry of Science and Innovation is working to promote the use of renewable energies, also in line with the objectives set by the government in accordance with the energy transition policies. At the same time, there is a solid commitment to developing research in the field of energy production from fusion, which would presumably resolve some of the limitations of currently available sources. How does the construction of the IFMIF-DONES scientific facility fit into this great long-term challenge of decreasing dependence on fossil fuels?

DM -The energy transition is one of the great challenges of our time. The world’s energy demand is increasing due to population growth and the rising level of development in many countries. There is a broad international consensus that the current pattern of energy sources is no longer sustainable.

In this context, the scientific community has been working for decades to be able to generate a massive, safe, sustainable, and virtually inexhaustible energy: fusion energy, the energy generated in the core of The Sun and the stars. On this path, the European Union, and Spain in particular, is playing a leading role.

Spain is already making a significant contribution with projects such as IFMIF-DONES. The large research laboratory, to be located in Escúzar, is an essential cornerstone for the European objective to construct a Fusion Electricity Production Demonstrator Plant (DEMO) by the middle of this century. It will be a unique scientific-technical infrastructure that will allow the simulation of the irradiation conditions that will be produced inside future fusion reactors.

ID- Spain has been chosen by Europe as the site to build the IFMIF-DONES scientific facility; all that has yet to be established is the official start of the works, which will presumably take place in the coming months. What led the government to promote the candidacy and what are the elements and strengths that our country brings to the table so that it can develop and work on this project in an optimum way?

DM -The things that really matter require alliances, involvement, passion, time, and a long-term view. This project started in 2017 and counts already with the collaboration of institutions from 11 European countries. During this time, our government has achieved an important commitment: if the IFMIF is built, it will be in Spain and it will be in Granada. This commitment is possible thanks to the technical work carried out by the Centro de Investigaciones Energéticas, Medioambientales y Tecnológicas (CIEMAT) and the unanimous support of all the institutions: the town councils of Escúzar and Granada, a city of reference for Science and Innovation, the prestigious and excellent University of Granada, the Provincial Council of Granada, and the Andalusian Regional Government. Together, working on what really matters, we are showing Spain’s capacity to absorb and lead an international scientific infrastructure, and the ability to be at the global forefront of the next technological revolution, much more closely linked to basic research and the true disruption of materials.

The history of fusion in Spain is a success story of collaboration between government, science and industry, the key formula to shape the future. Thanks to this cooperative work, today we can say that Spain is the third country in European contributions to ITER and an international reference in this area of knowledge.

A few years ago, Spain was a strong candidate to host the ITER project. Although it is finally being built in the South of France, there is an important contribution to this project from our country. An example is through the European fusion agency (Fusion for Energy), located in Barcelona and in charge of managing the European contribution to ITER.

After that first attempt, Spain decided to continue working so that the next major project on the European fusion roadmap would be built in our country, and we are finally succeeding.

We have the necessary ingredients to make IFMIF-DONES a reality: scientific and technical capacity, a top-level industry that is already making fundamental contributions to this type of projects, and the support of all of us who represent and defend the interests of the public. The international community is aware of all this and acknowledges and values us.

ID – The IFMIF-DONES facility aims at testing and qualifying materials capable of withstanding the extreme conditions to which the components that will form the first wall of future fusion reactors will be exposed. What will this research mean within the European Fusion Programme?

DM – IFMIF-DONES is a fundamental and necessary piece to be able to design and build, in the coming decades, a plant that demonstrates that fusion is an energy source capable of producing electricity in a sustainable and profitable way. In this sense, the research that will be carried out at IFMIF-DONES to test the materials that will be used in this demonstration plant will be decisive.

Moreover, we should not forget that IFMIF-DONES will not only be a reference facility for Europe and its fusion programme. It will also raise interest in many other countries beyond Europe’s borders, such as Japan, the United States, China and South Korea, which also need to test these materials.

When you have a unique scientific and technical infrastructure, the contributions you can make to science are also unique.

ID – CIEMAT has played an essential role in Spain’s candidacy, and other leading institutions such as the University of Granada have been working steadily on the project for years. Could you share with us how the work of so many institutions and governments has been coordinated?

DM – The key to success has been the collective effort and the shared passion to progress in this challenge for humanity.

The history of fusion energy in Spain began in the 1980s, with a working group that was set up at CIEMAT. Finally, in 2016, Granada was submitted as a candidate to host this project, and the scientific community and society acted as one voice and in the same direction. Both the University of Granada, which today plays one of the leading roles in the project, and the rest of the local, regional, and national institutions and administrations have worked tirelessly to realise this project.

The creation of the IFMIF-DONES España consortium is an example of co-governance. Together we have set a goal, we have charted a course and, just by going down the road, we are already achieving positive results for research in Granada. Spain’s bid to host the particle accelerator is firm, strong and progressing.

ID – On March 16th, a joint declaration was signed between Spain and Croatia in which the Croatian government indicates its willingness to become a financing partner of the project. It will be responsible for supplying components for the construction of IFMIF-DONES for a maximum value of 5% of the total construction budget. In addition, the meeting organised by the Piemonte Agency in Italy in December revealed the great interest of Italian industries in supporting a possible collaboration with the Italian government. How is the project partnership search going? Can you tell us if an agreement with any other government is close?

DM – More than partners, in Europe we have colleagues. Indeed, with Croatia, we have formalised the first joint declaration that sets out Croatia’s clear commitment to contribute to IFMIF-DONES. Other countries have also expressed their interest in the current state of the project and in making specific contributions to the project in order to be able to start the construction phase as soon as possible. It should be kept in mind

that a project like this does not start overnight. We have been working on its engineering design for several years and this work is currently being carried out in 17 countries of the European Union. And there are many countries that will be able to make contributions to bring the project to fruition.

An international working group was set up in 2021 to assess the status of the project and has just produced a final report which concludes that its progress is very positive. It stresses that the project is ready to start and recommends reaching agreements to formalise the different contributions between the different countries and Spain as host. This has been very relevant, and we hope that in the coming months we will be able to make progress with the signing of similar declarations by Croatia.

It is difficult to set specific dates in these matters, as the international situation is difficult to predict, especially at a time when a war is raging in Europe. What is certain is that our time frame for the official start of the project is no longer measured in years, but in months.

ID – It has been mentioned that the start date for the construction of the accelerator facilities could be at the end of the current year, and the call for tenders has already been opened to start the construction of some of the auxiliary buildings of the complex. Can you announce a timetable?

DM – Indeed, the first work on the grounds on which IFMIF-DONES will be located will begin in a few months’ time. After summer, we expect to lay the foundation stone for the administration building that will house the international team managing the project. The Spanish Government has already earmarked €16 million to advance the construction of this building and two other auxiliary buildings that will house very relevant laboratories.

In addition, surrounding the IFMIF-DONES facility, we will begin this year the construction, together with the University of Granada, of the DONES-UGR Research Centre. This is a centre where various research and validation activities related to IFMIF-DONES will be carried out. We hope that, at the end of this year or during the first half of 2023, the rest of the buildings and activities that will complete the scientific-technical facility, including the building where the particle accelerator will be located, will be launched. The goal is for IFMIF-DONES to be operational by 2033 in order to meet the European objectives included in the roadmap towards fusion.

Diana Morant, Minister of Science and Innovation

ID – The town of Escúzar, in the province of Granada, has been chosen for the construction of the accelerator facilities. You attended the signing of the land transfer agreement between the Escúzar Town Council and CIEMAT last January, a step prior to the start of construction of the first buildings. How do you think a town like Escúzar and its neighbours will be affected by the arrival of an international scientific facility like IFMIF-DONES?

DM – Visiting Escúzar for the signing of such a symbolic agreement was a wonderful opportunity to get close to the people who are making this work possible. And I am not

only referring to the authorities and technicians who push the project every day. I want to highlight the support of a town who generously donated the land to research energy sources for the future. This strategic project can also boost the revitalisation of the territory and stop depopulation by creating more and better opportunities for present and future generations. According to forecasts, the particle accelerator would generate more than 1,000 jobs in Granada alone, 400 of them high-level scientific and technical personnel from all over the world, during the 10 years of its construction and start-up and during the more than 2 decades of operation of the facilities, which would operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

With agreements like this one, we also seal our commitment to work together for what is important, for global challenges, such as overcoming the energy crisis, and for challenges such as the transformation of our country, improving the quality of life of citizens by promoting science and innovation in all territories, in a firm commitment of this Government to decentralisation.

I am sure that over the years many of us will look back and continue to remember with pride how it all began.

ID – In recent years, with the boost of IFMIF-DONES and the great work being done in knowledge areas such as Artificial Intelligence and the Health sector, with the strong collaboration of local agents and institutions such as the City Council, the University, the Provincial Council and all the business and social representative bodies, the city of Granada is now positioning itself as a landmark for science. What will be the future of Granada, and what role will science play in that future?

DM – This government is committed to science and innovation as the driving force behind Spain’s transformation. With the support of European recovery funds, we are investing in R&D&I in an unprecedented way, activating new science policies based on co-governance and public-private collaboration so that all the territories of our country can grow in a sustainable way based on their strengths and market opportunities.

Granada stands out for its important scientific-technical capabilities in areas such as AI and Health, as well as the future IFMIF-DONES. These can be the pillars on which to build a more resilient economy and society from Granada, for Spain as a whole. In addition, Granada has such powerful and differentiating factors as a university environment of reference, collaboration between administrations at all levels (Government of Spain, Andalusian Regional Government, Provincial Council of Granada, City Councils, etc.) and the support of civil society, business, and social representatives.

ID – In addition to the research that will be carried out at IFMIF-DONES within the European roadmap for the development of fusion energy, a unique scientific facility such as this one will also be very relevant in other areas of research and knowledge that can benefit from its technology such as medicine, particle physics, basic physics studies or industry. How do you think the transformative impulse of a project like IFMIF-DONES will be and what consequences will it have in the region?

ID – In addition to the research that will be carried out at IFMIF-DONES within the European roadmap for the development of fusion energy, a unique scientific facility such as this one will also be very relevant in other areas of research and knowledge that can benefit from its technology such as medicine, particle physics, basic physics studies or industry. How do you think the transformative impulse of a project like IFMIF-DONES will be and what consequences will it have in the region?

In addition, having such an important infrastructure will not only allow experiments in fusion materials, but also science in other areas of knowledge that can find in Granada the perfect ecosystem.

In terms of economic impact, recent studies estimate an impact of more than 6,000 million euros in increased production of goods in Spain, of which 4,000 million euros would be produced in Andalusia and more than 1,000 million euros in the province of Granada. All this with the obvious impact on direct and indirect employment. Science

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