Fusion energy is a national priority for the European Union, China, South Korea, and Japan – all have specific goals, timescales, and funding to implement successful fusion energy programs. In addition to independent national projects, 35 countries representing more than half of the world’s population are collaborating on the ITER tokamak project under construction in the south of France.
Across the world a new generation of machines are being built that will push the envelope of fusion science and lead to breakeven – the point where energy input is matched by the energy output by the fusion reaction – and beyond.
Since the first machines were constructed in the 1950s, exponential improvements in energy output have been achieved and fusion is now approaching the realm of viable power plants.
In 1997, the Joint European Torus (JET) at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in the UK achieved a fusion power record, 65% of the way to breakeven. Progress in laser fusion has also advanced, with the National Ignition Facility reporting higher energy yields from recent experiments. In Germany the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator, an alternative type of magnetic confinement device, began operation in February 2016 and is exceeding performance expectations. Meanwhile, construction is progressing on the ITER tokamak in Cadarache, France, and first plasma is anticipated for 2025. Fusion is progressing and is on the cusp of a revolution.
While large scale experiments such as these continue, the technological improvements that have enabled these advances have attracted new players in fusion energy. Private companies such as General Fusion see the urgent need for clean, on-demand energy sources to combat climate change, and are leveraging the agility and efficiency of private industry to bring fusion power to the grid decades sooner.