Five Signs of Nuclear Fusion Progress Around the World (2024)

By Hallie Cordingley

Engineering drawbacks have kept nuclear fusion from reaching market scales like other clean energy sources, but innovators all over the world continue to show up for the challenge.

Nuclear fusion reactions have existed for well over 60 years. Yet, despite the demand and capacity for renewable energy increasing, fusion is not available for mass production as are solar, wind, and hydropower. Fusion energy generation is an intense process, requiring planning and the construction of expensive facilities. That said, the industry has many advancements toward developing this potentially lucrative energy source. Here are five places globally that are helping turn nuclear fusion into a viable electricity source.

Japan’s superconductor

The National Institute of Fusion Research, located in Toki, Japan, hosts the largest superconducting plasma confinement device in the world: the Large Helical Device. Nuclear fusion combines light in the form of plasma, which is the hot and charged state of matter that generates huge amounts of energy. To facilitate a fusion reaction, areas to confine plasma are necessary. In the 2020 fiscal year, the device-powered plasma reached 100 million degrees. Previously, ions reaching this temperature or higher meant lower electron temperatures. But research at this institute generated high heat for both ions and electrons, essential components of the plasma used for nuclear fusion.

MIT’s magnetic field

A tokamak is a machine that confines the plasma used in fusion using magnetic fields. This makes it necessary to heat plasma to temperatures even hotter than the core of the sun in nuclear fusion reactions. There are a lot of hurdles with tokamaks, and scientists today struggle with keeping the device hot enough while also preventing the walls of the machine from completely melting. What has exhibited scientific progress though, is the magnetic field used in fusion. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), researchers have run fusion experiments since the1970s. In 2021, the Institute’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC) assisted Commonwealth Fusion Systems in creating a superconducting magnet that reached a field strength of 20 teslas, making it the most powerful magnetic field of its kind ever created on Earth. The invention has made it possible for engineers and scientists to finally be able to facilitate fusion reactions in labs, which was previously making limited progress.

Europe’s commercially viable tokamak

Speaking of tokamaks, the Joint European Torus (JET) is the largest operating one in the world. As with some other projects, plasmas in JET are hotter than anywhere else in the solar system. JET was specifically designed to explore fusion techniques needed for use in power plants, and so it is equipped to actually make progress toward the wide-scale use of nuclear fusion in power grids that so many labs are aiming for. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, commercial nuclear fusion will use fuel that is a specific 50-50 mix of two hydrogen isotopes, due to this mixture facilitating fusion at the lowest temperature and having the highest energy yield. JET is the only established machine operating in the world equipped to handle this particular combination, making it the pathway toward larger fusion implementations.

California’s powerful laser system

The National Ignition Facility is the world’s most powerful laser fusion facility, located at a lab in Livermore, California. The facility has 192 beams, allowing it to deliver more than 60 times the amount of energy to its target than any previous laser system. In 2013, the laser site resulted in a fusion reaction’s output exceeding the amount of energy taken up by the fuel, but not the energy used to power the laser beams. At the end of 2022, however, the system finally exhibited a net output of energy, what headlines are labeling the latest nuclear fusion “breakthrough”. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the site of the National Ignition Facility, is now home to two historical nuclear fusion reactions that pushed the industry closer to its goal of commercial energy development.

Global agreement on experimentation

The world’s largest nuclear fusion project, incorporating the efforts of seven members of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project is currently being constructed in France. ITER, not coincidentally, also means “path” or “journey” when translated directly into Latin. The project works in alignment with various smaller labs and machinery around the world, making it the center of convergence for global efforts in nuclear fusion. And it certainly is a journey, with various countries joining, pulling away, and rejoining, construction in France did not begin until 2007, but plans had been approved beginning in 1991. Seven members, the United States, Russia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and the European Union have the goal to achieve efficiency with ITER. The facility has no future plans of generating electricity, that will all happen in demonstration devices across the world. Instead, the project focuses on creating a large thermal output, 500 megawatts to be exact, with less than 50 MW of energy input. More of an experiment and less of a place with commercial intentions, ITER has had several delays. Regardless, concrete planning of continued construction and ambitious goals set ITER on track to enhance the productivity of future reactors.

Five Signs of Nuclear Fusion Progress Around the World (2024)


Five Signs of Nuclear Fusion Progress Around the World? ›

In August 2023, scientists at the US Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California repeated a breakthrough they first made in December 2022, achieving a "net energy gain" in fusion ignition. Using laser beams, the amount of energy from the fusion reaction surpassed that concentrated on the target for an instant.

What is the progress on nuclear fusion? ›

In August 2023, scientists at the US Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California repeated a breakthrough they first made in December 2022, achieving a "net energy gain" in fusion ignition. Using laser beams, the amount of energy from the fusion reaction surpassed that concentrated on the target for an instant.

What is the current status of nuclear fusion around the globe? ›

There are currently over 130 experimental public and private fusion devices operating, in construction or planned around the world, based on different approaches to producing fusion reactions and having a variety of designs.

What are the stages of nuclear fusion? ›

What is the Process of Nuclear Fusion?
  • At least two atoms are heated to very high temperatures.
  • The atoms collide with enough force to overcome the Coulomb force (magnetic repulsion) of their two positively-charged nuclei.
  • The two atoms fuse together.
  • Extra neutrons are released along with a burst of energy.

How do we know that nuclear fusion is still going on in the sun? ›

Neutrinos can escape directly from the center of the sun, so solar neutrino experiments can "see" the core of the sun. Four experiments detect solar neutrinos, providing direct evidence that nuclear fusion occurs in the sun. Each experiment detects fewer neutrinos than predicted by the standard solar model.

How will nuclear fusion change the world? ›

Climate and Nature. Fusion energy is the process that powers the sun and now it can be created here on Earth. Fusion energy could revolutionise the way we produce food and drinking water and heat our homes. Fusion energy could also increase carbon sequestration and reduce carbon emissions.

What will happen during nuclear fusion? ›

Nuclear Fusion reactions power the Sun and other stars. In a fusion reaction, two light nuclei merge to form a single heavier nucleus. The process releases energy because the total mass of the resulting single nucleus is less than the mass of the two original nuclei. The leftover mass becomes energy.

What is nuclear fusion class 5? ›

Nuclear fusion is a reaction through which two or more light nuclei collide to form a heavier nucleus. The nuclear fusion process occurs in elements that have a low atomic number, such as hydrogen. Nuclear Fusion is the opposite of nuclear fission reaction, in which heavy elements diffuse and form lighter elements.

What are 3 facts about nuclear fusion? ›

  • It's natural. In fact, it's abundant throughout the universe. ...
  • It's safe. There are no dangerous byproducts. ...
  • It's environmentally friendly. Fusion can help slow climate change. ...
  • It's conservation-friendly. ...
  • It's international. ...
  • It's unlimited. ...
  • It's industrial scale. ...
  • It's exciting.
Jan 25, 2016

What happens when hydrogen fusion runs out and stops like our sun? ›

Once a star has exhausted its supply of hydrogen in its core, leaving nothing but helium, the outward force created by fusion starts to decrease and the star can no longer maintain equilibrium. The force of gravity becomes greater than the force from internal pressure and the star begins to collapse.

What would happen to the Earth if nuclear fusion in the Sun stopped? ›

5 So, even if Earth somehow manages to survive extreme heat and physical collision with the Sun, life on Earth will no longer be possible. Without nuclear fusion in the Sun's core, the Sun essentially becomes useless to us. We will no longer have a source of energy to power our planet.

Is the Sun Hot enough for nuclear fusion? ›

We know the temperature at the surface of the Sun is far too cool for fusion.

How close to nuclear fusion are we? ›

I can't say for certain when, if ever, we'll achieve sustainable fusion power. But here are my odds, constructed entirely unscientifically: a 10% chance in the next 20 years, a 50% chance in the next century, a 30% chance within the next 100 years after that, and a 10% chance of it never happening.

Is nuclear fusion achieved? ›

In December 2022, scientists at the National Ignition Facility (pictured) achieved nuclear fusion “ignition,” in which the energy produced by the fusing of atomic nuclei exceeds that needed to kick the fusion off.

What is the major issue with nuclear fusion? ›

One key scientific challenge is in the physics of plasmas, the state of matter needed for fusion. Researchers do not fully understand the behavior of burning plasmas, those whose main source of heat is from the fusion reaction itself rather than an external source.

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