Previewing the next steps on the path to a magnetic fusion power plant

February 16, 2013

Scientists around the world have crossed a threshold into a promising and challenging new era in the quest for fusion energy. So says physicist George "Hutch" Neilson, director of advanced projects at the U.S. Department of Energy's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, in remarks prepared for the 2013 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston.

The new phase has begun with the construction of ITER, a fusion facility of unprecedented size and power that the European Union, the United States and five other countries are building in France. Plans call for ITER to produce 500 million watts of fusion power for some 300 second during the 2020s. With construction of ITER under way, many national fusion programs "are embarking on their own projects to demonstrate the production of electricity from ," Neilson said.

These nations are considering "DEMO" programs that would mark the final step before the construction of commercial fusion facilities by midcentury. Such programs have brought worldwide researchers together to discuss common challenges in annual workshops that the began sponsoring last year. "The scientific and technical issues for fusion are well known," said Neilson, "but the search for solutions is extremely challenging."

The key issues:

  • Development of computer codes to guide the design of DEMO plants.
  • Development of material for the interior of the plants.
  • Methods for extracting .
  • Methods for handling the exhaust from fusion reactions.
  • Requirements for devices to develop DEMO components.

Individual countries are exploring their own paths to a DEMO, based on their perceived need for such energy. All such plans remain tentative and subject to government approval.

A look at the possible roadmaps that countries are considering:

  • China—The world's most populous nation is pushing ahead with plans for a device called China's Fusion Engineering Test Reactor (CFETR) that would develop the technology for a demonstration plant. Construction of the CFETR could start around 2020 and be followed by operation of a DEMO in the 2030s.
  • Europe and Japan—These programs are jointly building a powerful tokamak called JT-60SA in Naka, Japan, as a complement to ITER. Plans call for construction to be completed in 2019. The Japanese and Europeans will then pursue similar but independent timelines. Both could start engineering design work on a DEMO around 2030, following the achievement of ITER milestones, and placing the DEMO in operation in the 2030s.
  • India—The country could begin building a device called SST-2 to develop components for a DEMO around 2027. India could start construction of a DEMO in 2037.
  • Korea—The program plans to build a machine that it calls K-DEMO that would develop components in the first phase, called K-DEMO-1, and utilize the components in the second phase, or K-DEMO 2. Construction could commence in the mid-to-late 2020s, with operations starting in the mid-2030s.
  • Russia—The country plans to develop a fusion neutron source (FNS), a facility that would produce neutrons, the chief form of energy created by fusion reactions, in preparation for a DEMO. The FNS project is part of a Russian commercial development strategy that runs to 2050.
  • United States—A next-step Fusion Nuclear Science Facility (FNSF) is under consideration. It would be used to investigate materials properties under fusion conditions, and develop components for a DEMO. Construction of the FNSF could start in the 2020s.

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2 / 5 (4) Feb 16, 2013
Excellent. This is actually beginning to sound like a worldwide project to make Fusion power happen. With various projects around the world, mostly in complimentary fashion, exploring the many technical aspects of operating a tokamak: From tritium and exhaust handling to blanket and materials science and a whole load of containment and control software. All with eyes to ITER and DEMO achieving simultaneously both the high beta and Q required for power output. There are so many Tokamaks being upgraded around the world at present to approach nearer to ITER conditions. The next 2 years should be very exiting for fusion watchers.
5 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2013
Been waiting to hear for more ITER news !

Still got decades to go though ! I hope I'm alive to see fusion plants being used for the grid in the west !

Any one know what "DEMO" stands for ? Or are they using it in terms of "demonstration" ?
4.3 / 5 (3) Feb 16, 2013
They are now talking mid century for a commercial plant. That's almost 40 years into the future. In the early 1970s the word was 2010 for a commercial fusion plant. The more things change the more they stay the same.
1 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2013
They keep predicting fusion in 20 years. I wish someone would come forward and tell us why this research hasn't progress in 40 years. It seems like there is a gage order on anyone involved in this research. Where are the dissenting opinions to the rosey picture painted by this energy department director.
2 / 5 (4) Feb 17, 2013
Around the world the many Tokamaks are each exploring refinements in materials, magnetic containment, beam injection heating and plasma dynamics. Many of the best are doing refits at the moment to make them more powerful or more like ITER so results are fewer at present. Reaching Q=5 for sustained ignition (ITER) is a formidable goal. Q=10 for DEMO will require tighter control still. We've currently only just passed Q=1.25 at the JT60 tokamak. As this article points out we now have many many facilities around the world working on the problems which are now fairly well understood from the previous generation tokamaks. Parts of ITER are being design tested at the new generation of tokamaks around the world. Building powerful custom hardware on the cutting edge of science takes time, but at least the timescales are believable now. Not just optimism on steoids.
not rated yet Feb 17, 2013
For those impatient souls not willing to wait another 10-50 years for ITER to produce results, Sandia Labs is scheduled to demonstrate something interesting by 2018 using MagLIF. Check it out: http://en.wikiped...l_Fusion
not rated yet Feb 17, 2013
It also seems the guys at the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works are working on their own fusion reactor concept, hoping to have 100MW reactors ready by 2023.

not rated yet Feb 17, 2013
It doesn't matter whether we will need another 50 or 500 years. The harnessing of fusion power is worth the effort.
not rated yet Feb 18, 2013
"Mid-Century" ? Since fusion power research began in the 1950s (Project Sherwood), that will make Any realistic advance toward drawing power from the grid A Century old, with nothing but Billions$$ wasted, projects built & abandoned !(such as Livermore's magnetic confinement pgm in th 80s.) Indeed, the smell of BS is rampant. Recently the laser-fusion program at Livermore in approaching its 40th yr., has recently failed to meet its near-term deadlines & the project is beset by disagreement from internal scientists that `break-even'ignition may be impossible. Incredibly, LLNL has finally come clean about the truth. Their primary interest in NIF is continued nuclear warhead research, so-called `stockpile-stewardship'.
Yet the project has used fusion as a front to the public & congress for 4 decades to downplay H-bomb research.

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