‘If we want to move towards a sustainable productive model, I am convinced that Spain needs to support Science, support DONES’

Carlos Alejaldre, Director-General of CIEMAT

Carlos Alejaldre holds a degree in Physics by the University of Zaragoza and received his Doctorate in Electrophysics at the Polytechnic Institute of New York, where he worked until he returned to Spain in 1986. Before being appointed Director-General at Centro de Investigaciones Energéticas, Medioambientales y Tecnológicas (CIEMAT) in 2018, he was Head of the National Fusion Laboratory for Magnetic Confinement, director of the ITER-Spain project, and Chairman of the European Advisory Committee for Science and Fusion Technology. Carlos Alejaldre’s professional experience is closely linked to the large fusion projects in which Spain has participated: President of the Executive Committee for the Implementing Agreement for the Stellearator Concept of the International Energy Agency, Vice-president of the European Strategic Forum for Research Infrastructures, Director-General of Technological Policy at the Ministry of Education and Science and, since 2006, Deputy Director-General of the ITER Organization in France. He was also Chairman of the Advisory Committee for Unique Facilities of the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness.

– Not many know that the construction of TJ-II located in CIEMAT, which has been the largest fusion stellarator-type experiment in Europe, was completed under your direction. Despite the obvious, which are the differences between such an important milestone and IFMIF-DONES?

– I would say that the difference between both milestones is similar to that between adolescence and adulthood. When we built TJ-II in the 90s, the fusion group at CIEMAT was young and in the process of growing. It had no previous experience in the construction of large scientific infrastructures and, without thinking about it much, it decided to compete against the ‘big guys’ and succeeded. By the time CIEMAT proposed bringing IFMIF-DONES to Spain, the group had acquired worldwide recognition in scientific, technological and even industrial fields thanks to their involvement in important fusion projects such as Wendelstein 7X in Germany, Broader Approach in Japan and, especially, for their support to ITER. The technical proposal for its construction in Spain was unanimously praised. It is not a coincidence that when we proposed constructing IFMIF-DONES in Granada, Ángel Ibarra has been the technical director for the European DONES project for years or that the Chair of the European Fusion Agency Governing Board, located in Barcelona, is Joaquín Sánchez, both members of CIEMAT. The group has matured greatly.

– Your role to present Granada’s candidacy has been key, as director of the proposal and as the Director-General of CIEMAT since 2018. What would you highlight in this, sometimes silent, previous work that has brought Granada to become Europe’s candidate?

-Defining a particular spot in the world to construct a top-level scientific and technological infrastructure requires convincing experts in science, technology, industry, managers, funders, politicians and the general population that the location is ideal for the development of the project. A strong local support is vital. Our goals throughout this long period were to create consensus, both at the national and international level to support the candidacy and to strengthen its credibility by designing a solid project: scientifically, technically, environmentally, socioeconomically, regulatorily… and even politically. This has required an effort in dialoguing with multiple actors. The credibility gained at the international competition to bring ITER to Spain has opened many doors.

– Why is Granada the ideal location to build IFMIF-DONES?

Granada has different features that make of it a very attractive city. First, I would highlight that its University is almost 500 years old. It is one of the top Spanish universities in international rankings and leader in fields such as ICT. It guarantees training and supplies researchers and experts in different fields, necessary for a project as complex as DONES during its at least 30 years of life. Granada is a medium-size city offering the participants in DONES and their families an excellent quality of life in one of the richest cities from a historical, architectural, and cultural point of view. Its climate is pleasant, with less than 50 rainy days per year, in a beautiful natural setting with high mountain and the Mediterranean. The enthusiasm and unity that institutions and the civil society have shown towards the project is one of the greatest values, which we have shown to the world.

It is also a curious coincidence that the cities of reference for ITER, Aix-en-Provence, and of IFMIF-DONES, Granada, are twin cities. It is fate!

– In recent weeks, the administrations have made clear their support to the candidacy by authorising the creation of the Consortium and with the financial contribution from the Spanish Government and Regional Government of Andalucía. Has the project moved to a new phase?

It has clearly moved to a new phase. Until now, IFMIF-DONES has been led by CIEMAT as the coordinator in Spain of the European activities in fusion. But it is now necessary to move to a new structure of the Project to implement the actions and mobilize the necessary resources for the construction of this large infrastructure. The model of Consortium between the Central and Regional governments has proven to be successful in other projects, such as the construction of the ALBA synchrotron, the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, or the Spanish Center for Pulsed Lasers, among others, and we have confidence in its efficiency.

– Institutional collaboration has been key in the presentation of the candidacy, but international cooperation has also been of great importance. The joint collaboration between Spain and Croatia has paved the way… Which are the next steps in diplomatic terms related to the particle accelerator? Has the negotiation with Japan progressed?

In my opinion, after signing the agreement with Croatia, the consolidation of the candidacy of Granada at the international level occurred when, in 2018, one year after discussions and European evaluations, ESFRI (European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures) included IFMIF-DONES sited in Granada in its 2018 roadmap of infrastructures of strategic interest for Europe. It was a tremendous boost. After green light for the creation of the Consortium, the next milestone is the approval of the European budget for research with the budget line for DONES. We are close to achieving this milestone, but, as I mentioned a few days ago at a meeting of the Commission for DONES, and comparing it to a marathon, we have completed 32 kilometres, but who has run this race knows that the last 10k are the hardest. We should avoid being overconfident!

– In the current uncertain situation caused by COVID-19, how would you explain to the population that in times of crisis is when science needs as much support as it can get?

In 2004, not long after I was appointed Director-General of Technological Policies at the Ministry of Education and Science, we had a meeting in Helsinki with our Finish colleagues. We asked them how having suffered an important economic crisis in the 90s they became a reference for Europe in practically all economic and social indicators. The answer of the Finish ministry at the time was clear and concise: ‘We significantly increased our investment in Education and R&D’.

We have an excellent example of this recommendation at the Spanish fusion programme on how investing, not spending, in science produces a return for society. Not long after joining the European Union, CIEMAT proposed building TJ-II, with a €30 million budget, 45 % funded by the EU. Sixty percent of the facility was constructed by Spanish companies. Some of them, thanks to this experience and the credibility obtained in the construction of TJ-II, achieved significant contracts through competitive recruitment processes for the construction of ITER, with a value of €1 billion, only behind France and Italy.

If we want to move towards a sustainable productive model, I am convinced that this is what needs to be applied in our country: support Science, support DONES.

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