Thomas Nicholas, PhD candidate in Plasma Science and Fusion Energy, University of York. As good as this all sounds, nuclear fusion is unlikely to play a major role in fighting climate change. To understand why, we need only look at the current state of fusion research. For decades, the performance of fusion devices has been improving – the capacity of scientists to confine hot hydrogen plasma has improved by a factor of 10,000. This plasma has to be over 100,000,000°C in order for the hydrogen nuclei to fuse and generate energy. The next big step is ITER, a huge project involving 35 nations, under construction in the south of France. ITER’s purpose is to test our ability to confine plasma for long enough and at a high enough density and temperature. Its goal is to be the first fusion device to produce more energy from the plasma than is put into it. But ITER isn’t a power station, it’s an experiment. The plan is to build a demonstration fusion power plant – called “DEMO” – after ITER shows it’s possible for the plasma to generate a net gain in energy. But ITER isn’t likely to reach this goal until 2035. The EU fusion roadmap assumes DEMO comes some time afterwards, likely around 2050 or later. The Tory promise of 2040 is extremely optimistic. A DEMO power plant needs to solve several problems which ITER won’t address. ITER’s power is produced in the form of neutrons which hit the reactor’s internal walls, but DEMO needs to actually turn that power into electricity.
The Conversation 30th Sept 2019 read more »