By Christofer Mowry, Chief Executive Officer at General Fusion
The most recent disruption of the global oil supply chain is a reminder of fossil fuel’s geopolitical fragility. In a world where energy is derived from fuel resources which are unequally distributed behind national borders, energy security and national security issues become intertwined. The curse of our fossil fuel dependency reveals itself as nations remain trapped in this volatile and perhaps unsustainable dynamic. And so, the pursuit of sustainable growth for societies must also encompass the development of borderless energy.
[vc_row][vc_column width=’1/2′]Fusion holds the promise of providing the world with a borderless energy supply and science which rises above claims of national entitlement. In its essential nature, the fuel which powers the sun cannot be claimed by any single country. The waters of our world, whose hydrogen is the source of fusion’s burning plasma, is available to every nation state. This critical universality of fusion science must be supplemented by borderless access to practical fusion technology and the ability to apply it. The history of fusion technology development has largely proceeded in a borderless manner, with both the details of scientific advances and the lessons of technical challenges shared among research programs. With industry focus now beginning to shift toward development of commercial fusion energy technology, the creation of international fusion policy and its borderless regulation has become an important initiative.
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The presence of well-defined global regulatory policies and reasonable licensing processes for fusion power plants is critical to fusion’s large-scale commercial viability across energy markets. Because fusion energy is an emerging technology, no regulatory framework for licensing prospective fusion power plants exists – in any jurisdiction – creating commercialization risks in both perception and reality. Part of General Fusion’s technology commercialization program is therefore the promotion and support of government initiatives to create an efficient regulatory framework for licensing.
Lessons from the history nuclear power plant licensing in the fission industry highlight two specific characteristics important to a commercially viable regulatory framework for fusion energy:
- Technology-appropriate regulation: An important fusion energy technology value proposition is its inherent freedom from safety risks to the general public, the proliferation of special nuclear materials which could be weaponized, and production of long-lived highly radioactive waste. As a result, the complex regulations promulgated to mitigate these risks are not necessary for fusion energy and, unless avoided, would burden fusion with a costly and lengthy licensing process.
- Regulatory harmonization: The licensing of nuclear fission power plants around the world developed into a patchwork of disparate and sometimes incompatible country-specific regulatory frameworks over the past half century. As a result, nuclear fission technology must be relicensed – and sometimes partially redesigned – for application in every jurisdiction where it seeks market access. This situation has highly constrained the practical addressable market for nuclear fission.
Understanding that an internationally-acceptable and technology-appropriate regulatory framework for fusion energy will take time to conceive and patience to build, General Fusion has already begun engaging the nuclear regulators in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Singapore. Initial progress is encouraging, with stakeholders acknowledging the social benefits of borderless energy and their own roles in turning the promise of commercially viable fusion into reality. After all, the global approach to energy regulation is just another transformative quality of fusion.