Achieving fusion power
Fusion is expected to become a major part of the energy mix during the second half of this century. With adequate funding, the first fusion power plants should be operating by 2040. To achieve this, a series of development steps need to be taken.
ITER is the next major international fusion experiment and a crucial step towards commercial fusion energy. It is expected to prove the feasibility of electricity generation from fusion by releasing some 500 megawatts of fusion power (from a 50 megawatt input) for up to 500 seconds. It will be the first fusion experiment to produce net power – ten times more than the amount required to heat the plasma.
A truly global undertaking, the participants in ITER represent more than half the world's population: China, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia, and the United States of America. It is the world's largest international co-operative scientific research and development project.
The ITER site is next to an existing energy research site at Cadarache in southern France. An international team is now constructing the machine, with the first plasma expected in 2020. This will be followed by a 20-year period of operation that will test essential physics and technologies for the fusion power plants of the future.
More information on the UK's contributions to ITER preparations is in the Research section.
Full details on the project are at the ITER website.
Selecting the right materials for commercial fusion plants will be crucial. The metals used in tokamaks will need to withstand the extreme conditions produced by high-energy fusion neutrons.
In parallel with ITER, IFMIF (the International Fusion Materials Irradiation Facility) will be constructed to test materials for future fusion power plants against neutron damage and irradiation. IFMIF is a particle accelerator that will produce high-energy neutrons and fire them at samples of materials identified as suitable for the walls of commercial tokamaks. Completion of IFMIF's design is now being taken forward as a joint European/Japanese project and a site for the facility is being identified, with operations planned to start in 2017.
Once the scientific and engineering systems have been tested on ITER and IFMIF, the next stage will be to build a demonstration fusion power plant integrating the results. Designs are already advanced for this prototype machine, known as ‘DEMO'.
DEMO will produce two gigawatts of electrical power to the grid, a similar output to a standard electrical power plant, and could be online in the 2030s. If successful, it will lead to the first generation of commercial fusion power stations.
Components of a fusion power plant
(Courtesy of www.efda.org)
- Introduction to fusion
- Why fusion is needed
- How fusion works
- The tokamak
- Achieving fusion power
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Support fusion research