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Helping make fusion a reality

Rafael Mariano Grossi

“The current level of international commitment is bringing us closer to a fusion future than ever before.”
— Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General, IAEA

When senior IAEA officials attended the second United Nations International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in 1958, they witnessed the release of what until then had been State secrets — attempts by countries to harness the power of nuclear fusion. According to those disclosures, fusion promised to provide near limitless energy for society. Fusion requires nuclei to be brought together in a process that releases much more energy from the same amount of fuel than nuclear fission, where atoms are split.

In the late 1950s, when fossil fuels’ future still seemed limitless and climate change was not yet being considered, fusion was seen as ‘nice to have’: a vision of energy generation for the distant future. How different the world we live in is today, with demand for clean energy outstripping supply. This has made clean sources of energy, such as fusion, of interest to policymakers, investors and the wider public.

Fusion generates four times more energy per kilogram of fuel than fission, and nearly four million times more energy than burning oil and coal. The current level of international commitment is bringing us closer to a fusion future than ever before.

A prime example of this is ITER, the world’s largest fusion experiment which unites scientists from 35 countries in a quest to achieve a self-sustaining fusion reaction. Construction is under way, and, when complete, ITER promises to usher in the next phase of fusion energy development — demonstration fusion power plants, also called DEMOs, which aim to produce electricity from fusion for the first time.

The IAEA is at the forefront of DEMO development, facilitating international coordination and sharing best practices in projects globally. The IAEA is fostering discussion on DEMOs and advancing broad-ranging international dialogue, in order to overcome highly technical challenges and make fusion energy a reality.

Nuclear Fusion, a scientific journal published by the IAEA, bears testimony to our commitment to fusion research. It is the longest running and most authoritative fusion journal in the world. It supports fusion researchers and engineers globally, receives half a million full text downloads each year and is consistently the highest impact journal in its field.

In this Bulletin, we present the efforts of governments and the growing involvement of the private sector in fusion. The increasing interest from investors and major energy producers show that the technical advances needed to make a fusion a reality are accelerating.

To paraphrase Lev Artsimovich, a famous Soviet era physicist, “Fusion will be ready when society needs it.” That time of need is now. Addressing climate change has become a global priority and decarbonizing our energy sources is one of our most important tasks. Harnessing fusion energy offers humanity a clean energy future that is closer than ever before.

May, 2021
Vol. 62-2

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