The challenges of Fusion Energy (incl. a virtual tour of the ITER experiment)

Speaker: Niek Lopes Cardozo, Eindhoven University of Technology

Language: English

Fusion holds the promise of unlimited, zero-CO2, clean and safe energy, for all, forever. For this reason, everybody wants it: Europe, Japan, the USA, Russia, China, India, and S-Korea have ambitious fusion development programs and work closely together in the joint fusion project ITER. ITER, under construction in Cadarache (France), will demonstrate 10-fold power multiplication at the 500 MW level. But, fusion energy has one big drawback: it is exceedingly difficult to achieve.

This talk identifies seven major scientific and technological obstacles that stand between us and commercial fusion power. Decades of research have overcome 4, ITER should bring this to 6 out of 7 while the 7th – development of neutron-hard materials - is being dealt with in a parallel development. This should clear the path to a demonstration power plant (DEMO). And from there on to saving the planet. Or is this too optimistic a view?

The talk does not shy away from critical questions. Is fusion not too complex to ever become a commercially viable technology? Isn’t it too expensive? Can it compete with renewable energy technologies? Or with Gen4 fission? Won’t fusion energy be too late to contribute to the energy transition? And will the society really need, let alone want, fusion power?

The ITER-project recently entered the assembly phase, and the online format lends itself to a virtual tour of the ITER site, right into the assembly hall and the reactor building. I invite you to join me on trip into the heart of this big science experiment - I’ll be happy to be your tour guide.

Niek Lopes Cardozo is professor of 'Science and Technology of Nuclear Fusion' in the Applied Physics department of Eindhoven University of Technology, and is interim chair of the Science Domain of NWO (Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) and member of the executive board of NWO. 

(inside the ITER reactor building, seen from the top, during the lowering of the bottom of the cryostat. Image: iter.org)