Fusion Energy (not fission)

Nuclear FUSION is NOT nuclear fission. The sun (pictured) is a natural fusion reactor. The fusion program aims at creating a very small version of the sun in a fusion reactor, potentially yielding immense power with few drawbacks.

Introduction to Fusion Power

Fusion power has many potential attractive features:

  • Abundant fuel
  • Intrinsically safe
  • No production of CO2 or atmospheric pollutants
  • "Clean nuclear stove" producing relatively short-lived waste.

Fusion power advocates commonly propose the use of deuterium, or tritium, both isotopes of hydrogen, as fuel and in many current designs also lithium and boron. Assuming a fusion energy output equal to the current global output and that this does not increase in the future, then the known current lithium reserves would last 3000 years, lithium from sea water would last 60 million years, and a more complicated fusion process using only deuterium from sea water would have fuel for 150 billion years. For more background, see HERE.

Go to top



Topical information on fusion energy? The first thing to discuss is  ITER.


ITER is the most advanced fusion project, now being constructed in Cadarache, France. It is a long-term development project that hopefully will take fusion out of the laboratory and into commercial use. ITER is jointly financed by the countries in the above logo. "ITER" means "journey" in Latin.

HERE is the official ITER site. Here is a picture of what the device will look like:

A cut-away view of the ITER Tokamak, revealing the donut-shaped plasma inside of the vacuum vessel.

Here is a short VIDEO about ITER:


HERE is news about ITER from Gary Johnson, Deputy Director.

Go to top


Other Fusion Devices (Stellarator, Lasers)

The Stellarator

Stellarators have a more complicated geometry than tokamaks (ITER is a tokamak), with extra twists. These are designed to help make the fusion reaction last for a longer time. Recent experiments have shown that stellarators may become competitive, see HERE for a popular account.

Here is a picture:

Go to top


Laser fusion

Also called inertial confinement fusion, laser fusion works by focusing laser beams on a microcapsule pellet to high accuracy, heating the pellet and driving the fusion reaction. Here is a picture of the NOVA laser fusion facility in California:


And here is a picture of a fuel microcapsule pellet:

Go to top


Commercial Fusion Power Reactors

Source: Richard Mattas, Retired Scientist from Argonne National Laboratory

Both inertial and magnetic fusion approaches can be modified for power production.  Fusion power plant design studies have been performed since the 1960’s, and there are numerous design concepts that have been analyzed and tested.

Magnetic fusion

Once the plasma physics of fusion is demonstrated in ITER, the next step is to use that fusion power to produce useful energy for the public. 

The overall features of a power production facility are surprisingly similar to ITER.  The main differences are in the components closest to the plasma, generally known as the blanket and first wall.  In ITER the blanket absorbs the neutrons generated within the plasma so it acts as a radiation shield for the rest of the reactor.  In a power plant, the blanket must also produce tritium fuel and remove the power at high temperatures so it can be efficiently used for electric power conversion. 

The overall size of the fusion reactor is marginally larger than ITER, so the non-nuclear components, e.g., the large superconducting magnets, will be effectively field tested with ITER.  The nuclear components will only be tested on a small scale in ITER, so additional materials and long-term reliability tests are needed before building a commercial power reactor.

Inertial Fusion

A first wall and blanket are also added to the inertial fusion system, but there are some differences compared to magnetic fusion.  First, inertial fusion does not require a magnetic field, so there are no magnets to constrain the geometry.  Second, high-energy beans must penetrate to the fuel pellet in the center of the reactor to ignite it, and thus there are many holes in the first wall and blanket to accommodate the beams.  Third, an inertial power reactor has a pellet ignition repetition rate of about one per second.

The types of materials used for inertial power reactors are similar to those used for magnetic systems, but the geometry and power response are considerably different.

Research to Commercial: When?

Fusion R&D is expensive since the test facilities alone to demonstrate the physics and technology typically cost more than $1B.  The overall cost of ITER for construction and operation is estimated to be about $20B, and it is now the largest international research project in the world.  The large cost along with the long times for construction and testing mean that a commercial fusion power plant is still 20-30 years away.    

Go to top



  • Apollo Alliance RSS feed Featured Article Apollo Alliance RSS feed Apollo Alliance RSS feed

    The Apollo Alliance is a coalition of labor, business, environmental, and community leaders working to catalyze a clean energy revolution that will put millions of Americans to... More »

Recently Updated
Carbon Capture and Storage (Sequestration) Last Updated on 2014-04-26 18:04:44   Carbon capture and storage (sequestration) or CCS Background on CCS  Will We Really Need Carbon Sequestration? Yes. Why? BUT there is a Big Caveat - we can't use CCS as an excuse not to mitigate directly What does Jim Hansen say? More Information for point carbon capture and storage Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR; Non-point capture) Agriculture and Forestry Sequestration What about Hemp for sequestration? What about Biochar for sequestration? Genetically engineered Bacteria and CCS And What About China's Use of Coal without sequestration? Other Examples of Carbon Sequestration Videos on CCS and coal plants Coal Phase-Out  References for Carbon Sequestration ---------------- Background on CCS  Carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and sequestration (CCS) is a set of technologies... More »
Economics of Mitigating Climate Change Last Updated on 2010-04-05 00:00:00 Economics of mitigating and adapting to climate change Go to "What You Can Do" to see how to help mitigate climate change and global warming. Below are some resources for the economics of mitigation and adaptation.  IPCC Mitigation 2007 Report Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change Johns Hopkins / Center for Climate Strategies Report Paul Krugman article Article in Climate Portal ------------------- IPCC Mitigation 2007 Report Summary for Policymakers Technical Summary   Go to top ------------------- Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change Background (Wikipedia) Full text of the Stern Review, from HM Treasury The UK Government's Treasury web pages about the Stern... More »
Apollo Alliance RSS feed Last Updated on 2009-10-14 00:00:00 The Apollo Alliance is a coalition of labor, business, environmental, and community leaders working to catalyze a clean energy revolution that will put millions of Americans to work in a new generation of high-quality, green-collar jobs. See HERE for a summary. Apollo’s 2009 program priorities are to: Promote federal policies, within the framework of The New Apollo Program, to spur national economic recovery through strategic investment in America’s clean energy economy. Strengthen and build state and local Apollo coalitions to promote policies, implement programs to speed investment in clean energy and energy efficiency, and put people to work in well-paid, green-collar jobs. This is the Apollo Alliance RSS feed: More »