The best mix of energy sources is strongly desired to prepare for the expected crisis that the Earth may encounter during the latter half of this century. This urgent situation is anticipated as a result of the monotonic increase in both energy consumption and population, as well as global warming by carbon dioxide. To realize a stable and reliable energy source to sustain human society which is, as much as possible, independent from world politics and economies, there are several necessary conditions to be considered; i.e., contribution to world peace, political feasibility, cost viability, low carbon emission, even distribution of resources and fuel, nuclear safety and non-proliferation, etc.
Since fusion energy is produced from the thermonuclear-fusion reaction among hydrogen isotopes (Deuterium and Tritium), and because it does not produce either high-level radioactive waste or carbon dioxide, it has sufficient technical potential to satisfy the above conditions. It is convincing and compelling that the fusion reaction is universally occurring in space as a hydrogen-chained reaction; i.e., the “Big Bang” spawned the origin of the energy of stars 13.7 billion years ago and the sun 4.6 billion years ago, which subsequently brought life to Earth. Fusion energy, therefore, could be the ultimate and stable energy source.
Fusion research was declassified at the second International Conference on the Peaceful Usage of Atomic Energy at Geneva in September 1958. Since then, for more than half a century, the global effort for international collaboration has been devoted to scientific research and technical development. Now, research has advanced to the stage of extracting energy from high-temperature D-T plasmas of more than 100 million degrees Celsius in the core of a large-scale, superconducting magnetic device. Fusion energy has become a real target, not just a dream for human society.
Historically, the D-T reaction was demonstrated by TFTR (USA) and JET (EU), and break-even (Q=1) was achieved by JT-60U (Japan) and JET in the 1990-2000 decade. Thus, after the successes of these projects, the International Thermonuclear Engineering Reactor Project (ITER: China, EU, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, and USA) was launched in 2007, with the construction phase beginning after 2010. ITER’s mission is to produce 500MW thermal output by D-T reaction around 2035 to prove the technical feasibility and viability of fusion energy. Its construction is currently progressing at its site in the South of France.
The next step of ITER is very important. Member countries of ITER have started to draw a roadmap to the Fusion Demo-Reactor. For example, China has started a new national fusion reactor project establishing a new faculty at the University of Science and Technology China (USTC) for the education of young engineers, scientists, and project managers. After the success of the ITER project, its positive economic impact will likely surge, and it is expected that stakeholders of the world’s fusion research will increase and that new fusion projects will be promoted by private, as well as public sectors.
In conclusion, fusion energy development is passing the turning point, and following the anticipated global crisis towards the end of the 21st century, it is very important to demonstrate its technical feasibility during the decade of 2030 as the prime candidate for energy mix and immediately after to start the construction of Demo-Reactor. The reason might be clear that enough lead time of several tens of years is necessary to build as required number of commercial fusion reactors. World leaders should have a long-range view of this situation.
The details of “why” and “what”, as well as the technical benefits of Fusion Research, are reported in the talk.