Masato Tabuchi, Manager, Plant Technology
Joined Kyoto Fusioneering in January 2022. Involved in Pressurized Water Reactor core designs and development of calculation code at Nuclear Engineering, Ltd. Received Ph.D. through research on the advancement of computational methods. He specialises in neutron transport calculation.
When was the first time you knew about nuclear fusion?
I think anyone who majored in natural sciences has certainly heard of nuclear fusion at least once, and I myself first learned about nuclear fusion in high school and remember honestly thinking, “It’s really amazing”.
When I first learned what a nuclear reaction was, I was overwhelmed by the fact that the energy density is on a much different scale from the chemical reactions happening all around us, and that it is pretty cool that humans are trying to control it. At the same time, I was impressed by the fact that fusion power generation is so well balanced and is truly an ideal energy source, whereas most existing energy generation options have rather distinct advantages and disadvantages.
Certainly the fusion industry was one of the paths I was considering when I was choosing my major at university. However, as I looked into it, I found out that people were still saying 30 years ago that fusion was a technology that could be realised in 30 years, and it began to sound to me like a fantasy rather than an ”ideal energy source”.
This is how I got my start with nuclear fission at university, and I continued to work with neutron transport calculations for about 16 years afterwards. I rarely talked about fusion at that point, and when it does occasionally come up in the workplace, there may have been a part of me that inwardly thought, “It’s not going to happen anyway, so who’s still working on it?”.
What made you join KF?
Last August, a friend and I happened to talk about fusion and I became curious so checked the internet to see what the industry is like now. I found out that many fusion related companies with aggressive milestones have emerged mainly in Europe and the US, and that world famous investors were putting in surprising amounts of money. Finding that investment professionals saw so much potential in nuclear fusion, I was excited to think that nuclear fusion, which had been a fantasy in my mind, might actually be on the verge of becoming an industry now.
While researching, I found out that there was a start-up in Japan that originated from Kyoto University, and I was curious to hear from someone who is actually involved in nuclear fusion now, so I made an initial inquiry to KF.
Afterwards, I was able to talk with Mr. Taka Nagao (CEO, Kyoto Fusion Engineering), and I could feel the excitement of fusion in the world at first hand. I also wanted to hear from people actually working in the fusion field about whether there were aspects of my work in the fission field that I could utilise. So when I was able to hear from Mr Nagao that there is also a need for neutron-savvy engineers in the field of fusion and that people with a variety of skills and backgrounds are playing an active role at KF, I started to seriously consider getting involved with KF.
However, I was aware that I was already in a job that suited me well enough to make the best use of my aptitude, so I took time to think about it after the talk. After much consideration, I thought that I could see things I would only see if I dive into the fusion industry with KF. In addition, when I talked to my family about it, they said, “Wouldn’t you regret it if you didn’t try?” They encouraged me, so I decided to join KF.
What projects are you currently working on at KF?
Currently, I am involved in KF’s UNITY* project and in consulting-related projects for public authorities and private start-ups overseas. As I was involved in a tritium project from the time I joined the company until April this year, I am mainly involved in the demonstration of tritium-related equipment and discussions on future designs in cooperation with my team members at the UNITY project.
Do you feel that your work at KF has changed you?
I actually feel that the nature and type of work has changed a lot from the work I used to do in my previous job.
For example, at my previous workplace, the work was very fragmented and I was in a particularly limited area, in a position where I had to compete on the depth of my area of expertise. In contrast, KF is a start-up and the organisation itself is in the process of expanding at the moment, so new projects and opportunities are constantly coming up.
I myself have changed from a stance where I used to focus only on my own area of expertise to one where I think about how we can achieve this as a whole and what we can do to achieve it. I feel that I have changed, as I have become more conscious of trying to fill in where members are not available in the current project and to take moves to accelerate the team.
I have been in a very stable environment, so to be honest, I am sometimes shocked by the amount of change and stimulation, but looking back on the seven months since I joined the company, I feel that I have had a very dense time and I am very happy to have come to KF.
How do you see KF changing over the next five years?
As a premise, I believe that the environment surrounding fusion itself will change dramatically in the next five years. Fusion power generation will become even more of a reality than it is now. Accordingly, I think it will be necessary to attract even more talented people to the fusion field, but there is a limit to the number of people that can be accepted by public institutions, so I think that the private sector, including KF, will play a greater role as a recipient of such personnel.
I personally believe that KF will be even larger by then and will have an important position in the global fusion industry, and I would like to achieve a situation where KF is known when people talk about fusion and anyone in the energy industry is familiar with it.
On the other hand, I also feel the ease of communication and working that is possible because of the current scale of the organisation. Therefore, I also wish to maintain this comfortable working atmosphere even as the size of the organisation grows.
What would you like to achieve with KF?
I want to witness the moment of fusion power realisation with my own eyes at KF. And I aim to be the kind of person that is needed by KF in a role that only I can take on at that time.
In the UNITY project I am currently working on, the members who specialised in plant construction and materials areas directly related to this project in their previous jobs are very much active, and I feel that one of my main roles now is to actively fill in where they have been unable to do.
I think it is an important change for me to feel that I want to play a role in the realisation of nuclear fusion, including supporting the team. Even with this in mind, I would still like to eventually establish a specialised area of expertise at KF that only I can take on.
It may be an area of expertise that I developed in my previous job or that I will acquire in the future, but even in the area of fusion, I want to establish something that only I can do, and thereby be needed by KF.
I would also like to move towards revitalising human resources and technology in the nuclear and fusion fields. I believe that I can contribute something back to both fields because I have been involved in the nuclear field for a long time and have pursued my expertise, so I would like to actively explore this as well.