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Programme Committee Meeting for the 28th Fusion Energy Conference Successfully Concluded despite COVID-19 Situation

Programme Committee Meeting for the 28th Fusion Energy Conference Successfully Concluded despite COVID-19 Situation

Shutaro Takeda, Sehila Gonzalez de Vicente, Matteo Barbarino and Danas Ridikas
Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications
Updated 15 June, 2020

200512Pic-03.jpg28th Fusion Energy Conference Programme Committee Members working from their home: Dr Matthew Hole (Australia, top left); Dr Elizabeth Surrey (European Union, top centre); Dr Takashi Inoue (Japan, top right); Dr Boris Kuteev (Russian Federation, bottom left); Dr Richard Buttery (US, bottom centre); Dr Richard Pitts (ITER Organization, bottom right).

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is continuing with its efforts to support and promote nuclear fusion research and technology .  The 28th edition of the conference, initially planned to take place in October this year, now has been postponed to 10-15 May 2021. The event is organized in cooperation with the French Alternative Energies, the Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) and the ITER International Fusion Energy Organization, and will take place in Nice, France. The FEC is a biennial international conference in which around one thousand prominent experts convene to discuss key scientific and technological advancements in nuclear fusion research – the mission to obtain sustainable energy by recreating the Sun on Earth.  The FEC has become a central pillar in global research cooperation; so much so, that the FEC has acquired a unique nickname: "the Olympics of nuclear fusion research".

Under ordinary circumstances, the FEC Programme Committee, an international panel of 30 distinguished experts in the field, meets in Vienna to rigorously evaluate and select conference presentations over one week. This year, however, due to the challenges presented by COVID-19, the IAEA and the Programme Committee were pressed to reorganize the evaluation process virtually for the first time -- a task that required coordination across five different continents and ten different time zones.

"The challenge of preparing the conference is great, possibly unprecedented, as we work with a truly international program committee - there is no time zone that works for all participants," said Dr Richard Buttery, Vice-chair of the Programme Committee. He added "despite possible challenges in hosting or timing the meeting, we are proceeding to plan its content, because we feel this is a very important meeting for the community, serving as a milestone of fusion progress. As a result, we have had to redesign our procedures to develop and select the program to enable mostly remote input through email participation and exchange of documents, assessments, etc. It has not been easy or perfect, but the key is to keep everyone informed of the process, ensure people can be heard, and adapt as we discover how best to do things." Dr Elizabeth Surrey, the Committee Chair, added: "This has involved much more work than usual, but all the Programme Committee members and IAEA staff have rallied to the cause."

 28th FEC TPC members holding a virtual meeting; provided by Dr Min Xu (China)

Despite the novelty and scale of the challenge, on the 22nd May, the Programme Committee successfully delivered the final conference programme as planned after collectively reviewing, discussing and evaluating more than 700 submissions. The willingness of the IAEA and the Programme Committee to adapt to the ever-changing conditions allowed this important meeting to take place during this difficult time.

Looking back on the experience, Dr Buttery reflects that "one great thing about this process is that we have many great international colleagues on the program committee, who are a pleasure to work with and have been most diligent and patient as we work through issues. [Remote working tools are] so much better than they were even a few years ago. It makes remote meetings and discussions very doable, and sometimes nearly as good as being in the room. We are blessed in the position we hold as fusion scientists; we have funding and can execute significant and important tasks to advance our field."

The success of the FEC Programme Committee is an example of the commitment of the international scientific community under IAEA's coordination coming together to continue promoting the peaceful use of nuclear energy, despite the current challenges caused by COVID-19.

Dr Surrey added a final comment of positivity to say that "I am sure we will have an excellent conference, and the efforts of the members shows the esteem the fusion community holds for the FEC."

The Conference programme is now available through the IAEA Indico website under this link.

Dr Richard Pearson from Kyoto Fusineering Ltd. contributed to this story as an editor.

Related Resources

28th IAEA Fusion Energy Conference

Conference Programme

Announcement for Postponement

Online Pre-Registration