Fusion energy is a proposed form of energy generation that would generate electricity using heat from nuclear fusion reactions. in the merger process
Two lighter atomic nuclei combine to form a heavier nucleus, while releasing energy. Devices designed to harness this energy are known as fusion reactors.
The European Union, EuroFusion, has taken a decisive step on the long road to commercially viable nuclear fusion The consortium has just announced the start of the five-year “conceptual design” phase of the power plant, a press release reveals.
That means nuclear fusion scientists have begun design work on a European experimental power plant that they hope will finally enable pure nuclear fusion energy—the much-touted way to end our dependence on fossil fuels by providing practically unlimited energy.
An experimental nuclear fusion plant is entering the conceptual design stage
Nuclear fusion is the reaction that the sun and stars use to produce energy. It occurs when two atoms smash into each other to form a heavier nucleus, giving off massive amounts of energy in the process. Until now, scientists have largely experimented with circular nuclear fusion reactors, called tokamaks, which use powerful magnets to contain the burning plasma needed for the reaction to occur.
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EuroFusion’s pilot power plant is planned to be a 300-500 MW tokamak, which the consortium described in its statement as “the first facility of its kind representing the next technological step after the global ITER merger trial.”
The consortium explained in its statement that the conceptual design phase of the demonstration “paints a path for scientific and engineering research from the basic sciences in current devices, all the way to designing an experimental fusion power plant, capable of producing net electricity shortly after the middle of the century.” The organization has specifically set the date 2054 as its target for commercial fusion energy delivery.
Apart from the goal of showing net production of 300 to 500 megawatts of electricity, DEMO will also showcase new innovations such as remote maintenance and tritium breeding. Tritium fusion will allow operators to produce tritium fusion fuel on site and will be a critical component for future commercial fusion operations.
Taking cues from the world’s largest merger experiment
Before getting to the conceptual design stage, EuroFusion revealed the results of the pre-concept design stage, which was carried out between 2014 and 2020. This covered many areas including power exhaust, tritium breeding, and powerful magnet designs.
In the EuroFusion statement, Gianfranco Federici, Head of Fusion Technology at EUROfusion, and Tony Donne, Program Manager for EUROfusion, write that “DEMO’s design and R&D activities in Europe benefit greatly from the experience gained from the design, licensing and construction of ITER.”
However, they cautioned that work at facilities such as DEMO should begin soon after ITER revealed its key findings so as to avoid a “brain drain” away from nuclear fusion to other industries.
ITER is the largest nuclear fusion experiment in the world. It is under construction in the south of France and is part of a collaboration between 35 partner countries, including the European Union, China, India, Japan, Russia and the United States. Its main goal is to show that nuclear fusion is safe and commercially viable.
If all goes as planned, humanity will have harnessed a new way to reliably harvest massive amounts of energy without harming the planet.