Roadmap and challenges to a magnetic fusion power plant


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 fusion energy,” Neilson said.

Roadmap and challenges to a magnetic fusion power plantThese 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 International Atomic Energy Agency 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 fusion power.
  • 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 fusion power 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.

2 Responses to Roadmap and challenges to a magnetic fusion power plant

  1. Donald Jasby March 2, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

    The Livermore NIF debacle of recent years has sounded the deathknell for laser fusion as an energy source.

    Now no rational person would dream of building a powerplant based on laser fusion. But that raises an interesting aspect concerning the tokamak DEMO schemes.

    This article tabulates 6 DEMO’s that are supposed to operate in the 2030′s and two test reactors that are supposed to operate in the 2020′s.
    All concepts suppose that ITER plasmas perform as well as advertised.

    Most remarkable is that the timescale for these $20 billion fantasies is the same as the ITER timescale, taking into account likely further delays in ITER operation. Full D-T operation in ITER was originally scheduled for 2022, but that date has now slipped officially to 2027, and is likely to slip well into the 2030′s.

    Suppose that ITER performs poorly– much worse than expected or advertised? Then there is no basis for imagining that any of these DEMO projects would be successful. But the ITER results will not be available until these DEMOs have actually been constructed! (If you want to give credence to the schedules of delusionists),

    If the various national fusion programs have money to waste on these schemes, they had better divert that money to speeding up ITER’s progress so that they can see whether there is any basis to their fantasies. Instead, some of the national programs complain that ITER is taking too much money!

  2. James Makepeace February 17, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

    Isn’t this article missing something ?

    Laser fusion is closing in on a solution, yet this rep[ort appears not to recognise that it even exists.

    Countries all over the world are working on laser fusion just as much as they are working on ITER, although for sure ITER is taking by far the biggest share of the funding.

    Fusion energy research is really important to us all, and so is responsible reporting…. which should recognise that using the press to advertise one project of this importance against another is really not smart !

    Let’s get fusion research properly funded… and let’s get it done soon !

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