Fusion Pilot Plant Study Report Posted

February 17, 2021

The U.S. National Academies (NASEM) has completed its study of a potential U.S. fusion pilot plant. The report is available at http://nap.edu/25991

The Executive Summary provides two main recommendation and a conclusion, as follows:

Recommendation: For the United States to be a leader in fusion and to make an impact on the transition to a low-carbon emission electrical system by 2050, the Department of Energy and the private sector should produce net electricity in a fusion pilot plant in the United States in the 2035-2040 timeframe. (Chapter 2)

The committee identified key goals and innovations for a pilot plant based on the input from stakeholders received during the study as well as input received during the Burning Plasma study and the recent APS-DPP Community Planning Process. The key goals, if successfully met, would provide the scientific, technological, and economic information that would enable fusion power plant developers and utilities to move forward with a commercial fusion power plant. A great deal of scientific and technological progress has been made, but significant remaining technical and scientific issues must be addressed in parallel with developing a successful pilot plant design that would enable an economically attractive power plant. There is increased risk associated with this approach, as compared to solving technical and scientific issues prior to designing a pilot plant, but urgency in clean energy needs, coupled with the promise of fusion energy, motivates this approach.

Due to the highly integrated nature of a pilot plant—including cutting-edge research, technology, and engineering—a conceptual design leading to an engineering design is required. The teams responsible for the design require a breadth of talent found in industry, national laboratories, and universities. An engineering design is the basis for determining costs and developing a schedule, which is critical for project planning and execution and will provide a focus for the work. The creation of national teams is imperative to begin the design work and to identify critical technology requirements. This led to the committee’s second recommendation.

Recommendation: The Department of Energy should move forward now to foster the creation of national teams, including public-private partnerships, that will develop conceptual pilot plant designs and technology roadmaps and lead to an engineering design of a pilot plant that will bring fusion to commercial viability. (Chapter 5)

In this report, the innovations needed for a pilot plant are broadly described. While some of the technology innovations are applicable to multiple fusion concepts, some concept-specific innovations need to be further defined. This report presents a strategic plan to help meet the key goals and generate the required scientific and technological innovations to produce electricity in the 2035-2040 timeframe. This plan identifies both goals for the various phases of design, construction, and operation of a pilot plant and broad criteria for moving forward to the next phase. This plan is more aggressive, thus higher risk, than that in the Burning Plasma report, since it is motivated by the needs of the electrical marketplace to make significant investments in low-carbon and non-carbon emission electricity. This results in the following conclusion:

Conclusion: Successful operation of a pilot plant in the 2035-2040 timeframe requires urgent investments by DOE and private industry—both to resolve the remaining technical and scientific issues and to design, construct, and commission a pilot plant. (Chapter 5)