Fusion could become a major part of the world’s energy supply during the second half of this century.
To achieve this, a series of development steps are planned, which are set out in the European fusion roadmap, published in 2018.
ITER is the next major international fusion experiment and a crucial step towards commercial fusion energy. It is designed to produce a plasma that releases 500 megawatts of power from fusion reactions, during pulses of up to an hour. ITER aims to validate technology for the prototype power stations that are expected to follow it.
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.
An international team is now constructing the machine, with the first plasma expected in the mid 2020s. 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.
Fusion power plants
Once the scientific and engineering systems have been tested on ITER, and refined at the various technology programmes at Culham and around the world, the next stage will be to build a demonstration fusion power plant. This will integrate all these experimental results and aim to produce consistent output of electricity with high availability. Europe’s integrated design of a fusion power plant is known as DEMO.
DEMO aims to produce 500MW of electrical power to the grid, a similar level of output to a standard electrical power plant, and should be online in the middle of the century.
The UK is also starting the design of a more compact, spherical fusion power plant – the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP). STEP builds on CCFE’s experience of operating MAST and we are just embarking on a five year initial design phase, in collaboration with UK industry and academia. STEP aims to be generating electricity (>100MW) on a timescale of 2040.