Special Lecture of Prof. Yoshikawa
President of the Science Council of Japan

Special Lecture of Prof. Yoshikawa,

President of the Science Council of Japan

We have come to crossroads in the fusion program. One road leads to the foundation of cooperation between nations striving to overcome the difficulties the world is confronted with, and the other leads to despair. It ic my privilege to make a remark in the memorial session of this prestigious international conference.

In recent years, many controversial issues have recently taken on global proportions which require strong international cooperation, such as the problem of greenhouse gas emissions. Under the current situation where the world population will doubtlessly increase, it is indispensable for all the governmental foundations and local communities to cooperate with each other towards the ultimate mission of preserving the global environment while retaining their own cultures, social structures and regional customs.

The global environmental issue, which has emerged abruptly in recent years, is a typical one requiring the world-wide cooperation which is necessary to solve our common problems. We have realized through the deliberate discussions we had first at the earth summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Kyoto last year, that international cooperation would have to be coordinated in a way totally different from previous bilateral government collaborations, civilian exchanges or industrial cooperation.

First, the issue we deal with is a problem of a global extent, and our local actions coping with the problem can also influence the whole world. Therefore, decisions or politics taken purely at the national level or for the benefit of a specific industry in the free market is not sufficient to address these emerging global issues.

Second, not only the symptom has a global scale, but the problem usually progresses in an irreversible way. Therefore, neither allopathic treatment nor emergency remedies, for which immediate effect is expected usually, produce satisfactory results.

Third, the emerging problems are not what mankind has ever experienced, and they cannot be solved with our present scientific knowledge in a straighfforward manner. Consequently, the development of necessary countermeasures often involve fundamental scientific researches.

The last point is that the many of such global issues arose as an integrated result of past actions of mankind which continuously strove to raise standards of living.

Accordingly, the effective solution may not be obtained by the development of an innovative technology, but by a fundamental shift in the direction of whole technological development.

We have hereupon understood that the solution of global issues would be obtained neither in the industrial free market competition nor with an increase of federal expenditures to support the individual fundamental scientific researches. We have realized that the advanced form of the international framework is the most important, where the cooperative development of effective countermeasures and their implementations are taken care of, based on the common recognition of global problems. It is evident that we have made progress on the global environmental issues, as collaborated in the arrangement of the related international conferences. Here, it has to be emphasized that practical actions enhance common understanding, which in turn leads to further effective actions.

I have mentioned in the beginning of the talk that many of the controversial issues have to be considered as a global matter. It is no doubt that the global environmental issue is a typical case. However, it is noteworthy that not only the national politics but also the industrial activities and even the individual behaviors have become necessary to be considered in relation to the global issues in many cases. For some of the issues, namely the provisions of food and the management of natural resources as well as the supply and consumption of energy, we would have to make an advanced step forward with equal weight to the global environmental issues under the international cooperation program.

In particular, the issue of energy shortage should in principle be managed collaboratively under governmental leadership, as it is sensitive to the world economy and politics. However, it is in practice committed to the charge of the free market. The issue of future energy shortage requires an advanced frame work of world cooperation. Therefore, it is the sooner the better that we develop practical methods of coordinating cooperative programs, even if the crisis is not foreseen in the near future.

The inventory of energy resources has been examined many times in past years. It is evident that the fossil and light water reactor fuels, as our present energy resources, cannot be relied upon for ever as they will eventually disappear. Therefore, it is indispensable to seek alternatives. However, the difficulty of forecasting future energy resources come from the fact that either in case where the technical feasibility is adequate, the amount of supply is scarce, or in case where abundant resource is anticipated it is often accompanied by technical difficulty. In the present situation, it is in principle impossible to specify a single energy resource which mankind could rely on in the future. Fusion energy is one of the options. it is certainly one of the potential candidates, worth deliberate investigations for the mankind.

In order to evaluate the feasibility of fusion energy as one of the options, I would introduce two important viewpoints here. One is the safety and the other is the cost, whereas in general the technical feasibility and the cost are the fundamental issues for evaluating new technologies.

As to the safety considerations, inherent safety of the fusion reactor as well as safety of specific reactors are addressed by the scientific experts. In regard to the cost estimate, on the other hand, we first have to clarify the significance of making a large amount of investment on fusion as one of the options, which does not guarantee its feasibility. However, we wili not be able to verity quantitatively that the amount of investment is appropriate. It is hardly possible to be accurate in estimating the cost necessary for the development of innovative technologies, related to the construction of experimental, demonstration and commercial reactors. Furthermore, it is far beyond our predicting capability to estimate how much the fusion reactor will profit society, when it runs on a commercial basis. Fusion energy may not be competitive with the conventional energy production schemes such as fossil fuel or fission reactors, if its cost of electricity is higher. However, the converse situation may well occur in the future, where society can take the benefit of relatively inexpensive electricity produced in the fusion reactor. The effort of intensive investigation to assess if the fusion energy is competitive or not in the future with our present predicting capabilities would be in vain as the outcome of the investment for which our commitment is presently urged would appear far out on the economic time scale.

In terms of the scale of energy source, however, fusion is situated right after fossil fuel energy and light water fission power. In a situation, where the fossil fuel is exhausted, and fission power is for some reason no more available or the global environmental issue is raised by the society, we would have to rely upon other possible options, regardless of the cost of electricity. Therefore, the detailed discussions of economic influence related to the fusion energy, does not seem to make any sense at present. I would say that the investment on the research and development of fusion energy, which is advantageous in terms of reduced environmental threat and stability of supplying the enormous amount of electricity, is a sort of insurance premium which insures the additional freedom of choice for the tuture of mankind.

A word of warning, however, is that the investment on fusion energy does not mean to produce a vast energy consuming society of the future. Should we be successful in reducing energy consumption while maintaining a satisfactory standard of living, we would come to the conclusion that alternative energy resources are not necessary. In this case, the fusion energy will not be put into practical use, even if its technical feasibility is adequate. We would not think that our investment was after all futile, as we paid for the insurance. Nobody would regret to have paid for life insurance, if he enjoys a long life. It is certainly an appropriate investment. In other words although fusion energy development and reduced energy consumption are poles apart in our options, I believe that they should be simultaneously sought with a sincere attitude.

The investment on scientific research for the insurance of the future is characteristic of the recent social situation, where the global environmental issue is strongly emphasized. It has never happened before in the field of industrial technology development. The significance of investment thus made will largely be recognized, and we will have to maximize the efficiency of our investment.

Accordingly, I will discuss here the issues of considerations for the government, which hosts the experimental fusion reactor, such as ITER. If were Japan, the primary issue which the Japanese government would have to think about is the technical aspects, related to the issues of energy shortage, significance of fusion energy and the feasibility of construction of reactor. The other issue is the social aspect, such as the role of Japan in the international society, national identity and public consciousness of global issues. Even if Japan was successful in convincing its own parliament members and cooperating countries to host the experimental fusion reactor, it is necessary to assess the influences when the program is successful or terminated without any conspicuous results respectively.

Comprehensive categories of the possible outcomes are given. The firstcase is that the experiment is successful with accomplished technical developments. Fusion energy is recognized as a competitive alternative, and a bright future for the commercial reactor comes into our sight. in this case, Japan is admired as a icader of fusion research, and the success of the program would produce enormous amount of economic profit.

The second case is that the technical feasibility is established, but the economic competence is poor. In this case, people may think that the investment was not fully recovered. However, it is certainly a great success in the sense that we have established a secure alternative of energy for the future of mankind.

The third case is that the energy consumption itself decreases, and the development of alternative energy resources is not urged any more. In this case, the ultimate goal seems to be lost, even if the technical development was accomplished. However, if such a change of the direction of the rail track in society is produced along the effort of establishing alternative energy resource, I would say that the investment on fusion research retains its significance because it affects the directions of the society.

The last case is that fusion is found to be hardly feasible due to technical difficulties. Although the fundamental difficulties are not pointed out at the moment, we cannot be 100% perfect assessing the feasibility. in this case, fusion energy development is indeed a failure. However, it can be at the same time an investment as a premium for the preservation of the global environment. Conversely speaking, we learn from the failure and may start thinking about the limit of development. Therefore, it is not a total failure even in this case.

In practice, the possible cases to analyze would have to be broken into more detailed categories. However, we are not presently capable of predicting the environmental, economic and international situations at the time when conventional energy resources are exhausted. Therefore, it is not fundamental to discuss which cases we would fall into, but we should be prepared to claim that our investment as a premium was not expensive in ail the cases. If we can make such a statement, then we deserve to make a decision in favor of an experimental reactor, for which the prediction of the profit is in principle impossible.

It is true, however, that we naturally prefer less payment for the premium. Therefore, it is necessary to extract the potential advantages of fusion energy development programs whatever the result would be. It can be the proliferation of the knowledge acquired in the process of fundamental fusion plasma research to more general scientific studies or industrial applications. The skill of international cooperation, related to the highly specialized scientific and engineering development, may also be profitable in other fields. In particular, cooperative work between different generations, would promote intimate friendship among the people who constitute the society.

On the other hand, it is also important to reduce the cost of the whole program. In the case where the ultimate mission and the fundamental procedures are clearly defined, as it is in the case of ITER, the method of management would be different from the other research institutes which mainly work on general science. Therefore, a large amount of effort would have to be devoted to reduce the cost of the program. The participation of expert in administration would also be effective, in order to balance the technical goals, development risks and costs.

It is thus hardly possible in principle to provide accurate figures, related to the risk estimate, when we commit ourselves to a national or coordinated program in which a large amount of appropriation is involved. However, the question is whether we will do our best to maximize the efficiency of the program to produce collateral profit, whatever the result would be. Accordingly, only the program for which all the possible significance and profit are maximized for the given amount of investment, regardless of its degree of scientific achievements at the final stage, deserves commitment.

In order to maximize the efficiency of the program, there are many issues to be made clear at present. These issues are important when considering start of the experimental fusion reactor. First of all, we need to investigate the long term energy supply and consumption needs. Here, it is important to be impartial in the assessing energy demand, not being specific to a particular industry or to a community where the life style is uncommon.

Secondly, feasibility assessment should be made for alternative energy resources and a proposal should be made on the development and utilization, which incorporates investment In scientific research and industry support.

The third issue is that the possibilities for the commercial use of fusion energy as a safe and secure alternative. This would have to be studied from the viewpoint of the potential technical as well as administrative capabilities and the characteristics of industry structure. Here, it is above all important to acquire the participation from major industries.

The fourth point is that if Japan were to host ITER, we would have a responsibility to continuously support fusion energy development programs. A comprehensive long term plan must be made for a system in support of ITER and future fusion reactor development. This plan should specify the role of universities and industries in related basic research, such as material research, as well as education and training of specialists. This plan should also present a scheme for collaboration among different institutions.

The following issues may not be only directly relevant to fusion. However, they address the fundamental guideline in distributing the appropriations and coordinating the international program.

In many fundamental scientific studies, some appropriation is required,and the way of distribution is in practice determined by the national strategy. In regard to the guideJines for the distribution, it is necessary to distinguish the purely academic research from the research which is required for the survival of mankind. They are not by all means antipodal. However, it is important to balance the weights of these two, reflecting social and economical situations. It is evident that the latter should presently be emphasized.

As I have mentioned at the beginning of the talk, there are many important issues and controversies, which have to be treated as global problems requiring global solutions. Namely, they are the provisions of food and energy as well as the preservation of the global environment. In future, effective countermeasures have to be applied based on global collaboration, well before the symptom progresses.

I have also emphasized that we would have to undertake different ways of decision making, in order to cope with these global issues. In other words, it is essential for all friends in various nations share their understanding and strive forward to improve the situation, defying the different cultures and national borders. I would like to emphasize that in the particular case where the scientific issue is involved, cooperative work is indispensable, and the driving force of our collaboration effort is not the short term profit close at hand, but the courageous decision made by the integrated wisdom of mankind.

Back to List of Topics