‘Fusion is a big scientific and technological challenge that can change the energy paradigm, but it will take time’

María Teresa Domínguez, Executive Director in Advanced Projects and R&D at Empresarios Agrupados

María Teresa Domínguez is the Executive Director in Advanced Projects and R&D at Empresarios Agrupados. Empresados Agrupados, founded in 1971, provides services to the international electric sector and has a wide experience in projects related to nuclear fusion. Throughout her 30 years of experience in the fields of fission and fusion, Ms. Domínguez has participated in the development of LWR, GEN III, GEN III+ and GEN IV reactors and has led contracts for ITER, IFMIF and DONES, among other fusion facilities. Since 2008, Ms. Domínguez has been a member of the Advisory Group on Energy (AGE) to the European Commission. Ms. Domínguez was president of the Spanish Nuclear Society and of Foro de la Industria Nuclear Española and is currently a member of the Governing Board of the SNETP (Sustainable Nuclear Energy Technology Platform) and of CIEMAT’s Scientific Advisory Committee.

-Empresarios Agrupados has a long history of working in research projects related to fusion technology. What has been the contribution of your organisation in the design of projects such as ITER or IFMIF?

-Empresarios Agrupados first started working on fusion in 1994 by contributing in the detail design of ITER, which was the grounds for the final decision for it to be constructed in Cadarache in 2006. Since then, Empresarios Agrupados has carried out relevant contracts in all engineering disciplines (civil, mechanic, electric, instrumentation and control), some of which are worth highlighting: the design of all buildings (ITER buildings), the main cooling water system (Tokamak Cooling Water System), Power Distribution and Parcel Power Supply, Central Safety System (SCS-N) and tritium regeneration system (TBMs).

On a parallel with ITER tasks, Empresarios Agrupados has engaged in activities for IFMIF-DONES, which increased in 2017 with basic design engineering for DONES. This was reviewed by an international panel in 2019 and it will be the basis for the candidacy of its construction in the province of Granada.

-Empresarios Agrupados is partner in the DONES-PreP project. What role will it play in IFMIF-DONES?

-Empresarios Agrupados has gained considerable experience in previous phases. As a result, we expect to play a significant role in both IFMIF and DONES in the next steps in terms of detail engineering, licensing, site preparation, consolidation of in-kind contributions to the project and, finally, in its construction and operation. In particular, in the DONES Preparatory Phase project that you refer to in your question, Empresarios Agrupados is working on defining a flexible hiring scheme that will allow in-kind contributions from the rest of the countries participating in DONES-PreP, as well as the support of emerging activities for site preparation.

-From an engineering point of view, what are the challenges posed by the construction of the particle accelerator?

-The engineering challenges are always the execution of a competitive, constructible design, reliable for the operation of the facility. These challenges are even greater in first-of-a-kind facilities, such as ITER and IFMIF-DONES. There are no previous references and the phenomena to address are unfamiliar. In the case of particle accelerators, for instance, tolerance, electromagnetic compatibility, materials, maintenance restrictions, etc, are specific and innovative aspects to consider in their design and construction.

One of the objectives of the preparatory phase of IFMIF-DONES is to acquaint and involve the industry sector in the project. What will the operation of this facility entail for the industry sector and particularly for the energy sector?

-It is a fact that the construction of large technological facilities entails a huge impact in the country’s industry sector. Particularly, the energy sector has always been a driving force for Spain’s industry. It has played a significant role in the promotion of industry, from large hydraulic infrastructures to coal, nuclear, natural gas, and, currently, renewable power plants. Adapting to this continuous evolution of technologies has enabled the development of a strong industry with high execution standards. Similarly, IFMIF-DONES will help revitalise the industry, which will acquire a necessary know-how to face the challenges related to fusion as a new energy vector.

– Within DONES-PreP, Empresarios Agrupados is involved in work packages related to the optimization of resources and the obtaining of environmental permits and licenses. What is the impact, from an environmental point of view, of a facility such as IFMIF-DONES on the land where it will be built?

-The impact of an innovative facility such as IFMIF-DONES is always positive in terms of growth, job opportunities, international projection, scientific opportunities, etc. In the case of Granada, IFMIF-DONES will also entail a reinforcement of the already existing scientific and technological infrastructure. The support granted by local, national and international authorities will allow channelling these synergies efficiently.

What can the Spanish industry and companies contribute in the race towards fusion energy? Do you believe that public and private cooperation is important in the achievement of this new source of energy and its commercialisation?

-As mentioned previously, Spanish industry and companies have been involved in the fusion program to achieve this source of energy from the beginning. Their participation is a result of close collaboration with national and international public entities. In particular, the support from CIEMAT, which has always favored the participation of industry, and CDTI, as the body responsible for Spanish industry participation in large facilities, have been fundamental for the high participation of Spanish industry in the fusion program. This private-public collaboration is with no doubt the way to achieve a milestone as important as having access to a new source of energy.

How will the international energy map change in your opinion once nuclear fusion is achieved thanks to projects such as IFMIF-DONES, IFMIF-EVEDA, ITER and DEMO?

-It is too soon to answer this question, not only due to technological aspects, but also due to the uncertain international energy scenario and society, as witnessed recently. However, based on technical fusion features, it can be confirmed that it will be a source of energy less dependent on natural resources located in specific areas in the world. It will also be independent of geopolitical tensions, which will allow countries to increase their security of supply and energy independence significantly.

Is it feasible to think that fusion will replace traditional sources of energy in the short or medium term?

-Fusion can solve the energy problem and completely change the paradigm, allowing us to do things that we now seem distant, such as massive water desalination, production of food in unprecedented quantities or large scale recycling of raw materials, but it is a scientific and technological challenge that will take time. It is an objective that ITER demonstrates the feasibility of fusion as a source of energy, with reactions that will produce tenfold the energy that it consumes. With IFMIF-DONES, we will be in a position to initiate the construction of a demonstrator reactor DEMO, capable of generating net energy in the power grid in two decades. Later, in order to substitute the traditional energy sources, other phases with a duration currently difficult to determine will be necessary to demonstrate an efficient production of energy at competitive costs. We hope for a significant acceleration in this stage, since this will be the phase in which industry will deeply get involved in the development of these power plants.

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