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Latest ITER Newsline

  • Industrial milestone | First cryopump passes all tests

    The serial production of ITER's powerful torus and cryostat cryopumps is progressing at Research Instruments, Germany, on behalf of the European Domestic Agency [...]

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  • Cryoline installation | Ball joints against earthquakes

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  • The changing fusion landscape | ITER hosting private sector workshop

    Take out your smart phone and search your favourite news site for 'nuclear fusion' or 'fusion energy.' On any given day, you will find articles discussing break [...]

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  • Image of the Week | Advisory committee season

    The 30th Meeting of the ITER Council Science and Technology Advisory Committee (STAC-30) took place at ITER Headquarters from 13 to 16 May. The Science and Tech [...]

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  • ITER Design Handbook | Preserving the vital legacy of ITER

    The contributions that ITER is making to fusion physics and engineering—through decades of decisions and implementation—are delivering insights to the fusion co [...]

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Of Interest

See archived entries

Fusion world

Toward public-private synergies

In recent years, the private fusion industry has seen massive growth. The companies involved vary in technology, strategies, and levels of funding, but all move the global fusion community a step closer towards a shared goal with the ITER project: the development of fusion as a viable energy source.

In less than 5 years the number of private fusion companies worldwide has doubled. The Fusion Industry Association reports that total private investment in the fusion sector surpasses USD 6 billion (EUR 5.5 billion). (Click to view larger version...)
In less than 5 years the number of private fusion companies worldwide has doubled. The Fusion Industry Association reports that total private investment in the fusion sector surpasses USD 6 billion (EUR 5.5 billion).
Until quite recently, the fusion private sector was relatively small, with a dearth of available investments for private companies in the field. However, in recent years, the private fusion landscape has seen a drastic increase in both companies and investments. The Fusion Industry Association reports that since just 2019, total private fusion entities have more than doubled in number to 43 overall, and total private investment in the fusion sector has surpassed $6 billion. This newfound private interest in fusion has been attributed to a multitude of factors, including: efforts to develop enabling materials and new approaches that could make fusion devices more realistic at smaller scale or with different designs; the path paved by ITER in designing, fabricating, delivering, and assembling components; recent successes at public laboratory test centres around the world; and the sense of urgency globally to identify alternative sources of clean power.

The ascendance of these private fusion companies creates the possibility of public-private synergies. Public projects are largely oriented towards proving the scientific and industrial feasibility of fusion. Private companies, by their nature, are specifically concerned with the economic viability of harnessing fusion power for energy. However, for the global fusion community to achieve the shared goal of harnessing fusion power for electricity generation, scientific, industrial, and economic feasibility are ultimately each indispensable factors. Thus, the essential question for the fusion community over the coming years is, "how can these two sectors' specific strengths be combined to accelerate humanity's race towards harnessing fusion energy?"

Whereas public projects are largely oriented towards proving the scientific feasibility of fusion (here the UK spherical tokamak MAST-Upgrade), private companies are specifically concerned with the economic viability of harnessing fusion power for energy. (Click to view larger version...)
Whereas public projects are largely oriented towards proving the scientific feasibility of fusion (here the UK spherical tokamak MAST-Upgrade), private companies are specifically concerned with the economic viability of harnessing fusion power for energy.
The achievement of ITER's principal project specification—producing burning plasmas with a power amplification ratio across the plasma of  Q>10—will demonstrate that magnetic confinement fusion can be a scientifically viable method of net energy gain, paving the way for both next-generation DEMO reactors and private efforts to deliver fusion power to the grid. Equally, ITER's first-of-a-kind diagnostic capacity will provide essential data on burning plasma behaviour in long-pulse scenarios, optimized confinement techniques, and the management of heat exhaust, among other factors. Such information is needed not only for tokamak designs, but for magnetic confinement designs as a whole, and is therefore relevant for a breadth of private sector initiatives. Moreover, the construction and assembly of the ITER Tokamak is driving industrial capabilities that benefit the international fusion ecosystem; this includes insights aligned with ITER's second main objective, which is the integration of all the technologies needed to support the operation of an industrial-scale fusion device.

ITER is providing practical experience in designing, fabricating, and assembling a fusion facility and— importantly— it is the first fusion facility to go through the process of nuclear licensing. ITER's complex multinational procurement structure has also resulted in the development of fusion technology supply chains, and is contributing to the creation of a diverse, global, and experienced fusion workforce. The private sector has already begun to utilize these linkages in constructing their fusion devices, and if successful, will continue to do so at larger scales as they build more and more complex machines.

Smaller, private and agile startups (here the Seattle-based Helion) can explore new approaches in fusion machine concepts and design. (Click to view larger version...)
Smaller, private and agile startups (here the Seattle-based Helion) can explore new approaches in fusion machine concepts and design.
Crucially, in order for fusion to function as an important carbon-free baseload power source in the future, its associated Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) must be competitive with other energy sources. In essence, for a future commercial fleet of fusion reactors to be a realistic possibility, the cost of producing a megawatt of electricity by fusion power must drastically decrease over the coming decades. This is not the goal of a first-of-a-kind machine like ITER; before one tries to decrease or even define the cost per megawatt produced, the scientific and technological viability of fusion must first be proven. However, the private sector is already beginning to test materials and concepts that could lower help to fusion's potential LCOE, once its viability is established. As an example, some private sector companies have begun testing the use of high temperature superconductors to create stronger magnetic fields, potentially allowing for a more compact tokamak design. Developing such compact reactors could make commercial fusion a more viable endeavor—but only if correspondingly advanced first-wall materials were to be developed, capable of withstanding the associated greater concentration of power. Others are building reactors with differing design concepts, such as spherical tokamaks, stellarators, Z-pinch, and reversed field configurations. Some of these innovations are higher risk and will likely fail; others may become relevant over time in the design choices of commercial reactors. Such material and conceptual tests, among many others, will provide valuable new data points to the worldwide fusion community for future magnetic confinement fusion designs.

Progress achieved in 3D computer modelling has largely contributed to reviving the stellarator option (here, the Helically Symmetric eXperiment (HSX) operated by the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin in Madison). (Click to view larger version...)
Progress achieved in 3D computer modelling has largely contributed to reviving the stellarator option (here, the Helically Symmetric eXperiment (HSX) operated by the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin in Madison).
Attempts are being made across the fusion community to formalize these synergies into partnerships. The Bold Decadal Vision for Commercial Fusion Energy, launched in the US in 2022, makes $50 million available in grants to private fusion initiatives, which will collaborate with national labs towards creating a first pilot plant. The UK's Fusion Industry Program just launched its Challenge program, which aims to engage the private sector to overcome specific fusion technical challenges. In Germany, the Pulsed Light Technologies GmbH subsidiary will invest up to 90 million euros in private sector inertial confinement initiatives. Japan, meanwhile, is launching the Fusion Industry Council to support and promote private sector engagement in the domestic fusion industry.

At the international level, the IAEA recently announced the creation of the World Fusion Energy Group, an initiative to encourage cross-sector collaboration in the fusion industry. Announced at the recent IAEA Fusion Energy Conference, the group, according to Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, aims to "bring together not just scientists and engineers from laboratories and experimental centres, but also policy makers, financiers, regulators and private companies" to accelerate the eventual achievement of commercial fusion energy production.  The expansion in this type of cross-sector collaborative thinking reflects an emerging recognition that exploiting the synergies between the public and private sectors will be necessary to harness fusion energy. As the recognized global leader in multinational fusion collaboration, ITER will certainly have a critical role to play.



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