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Revamping Fusion Research


A fundamental revamping of magnetic plasma fusion research is needed, because the current focus of world fusion research—the ITER-tokamak concept—is virtually certain to be a commercial failure. Towards that end, a number of technological considerations are described, believed important to successful fusion research. Beyond critical attention to plasma physics challenges, there must be a much sharper focus on electric utility acceptance criteria, which strongly reflect the public interest. While the ITER-tokamak experience has provided important understanding of a variety of technology issues, it is expensive and time-consuming. Engineers with commercial-world experience must become involved in future fusion research and must have a major influence on program decision-making and evaluation. Fusion engineers will have to be imaginative while being rooted in an understanding of fission reactor development, nuclear regulation, and electric utility realities, the proper consideration of which will impact fusion program success. Properly developed, fusion power holds great promise as an attractive electric power source for the long-term future.

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Fig. 1


  1. Here we use the term magnetic confinement to differentiate from inertial fusion, which typically involves the very rapid compression of DT-containing pellets. Laser fusion is one example of inertial fusion.

  2. Large in the context of neutron streaming/leakage is a relative term. In the case of a vacuum duct running through a one meter blanket, 10 cm diameter (10/100 ratio) might qualify as “large”.

  3. Some researchers have suggested that a flowing lithium stream might be utilized as a viable dump for helium fusion products. That might be possible, but regulators and plant operators are sure to require extensive safety measures related to the use of liquid lithium, because of its associated fire and explosive hazards.

  4. The cost of such a regulator-approved building cannot be estimated until a reactor design and adjacent maintenance and storage facilities are designed. However, as determined by Galambos, J.S. et al., The Impact of Advance Physics on Commercial Tokamak Fusion Reactors, November 4, 1993, the large size of ITER compared to a comparable fission reactor—over 150 times the volume—argues for an ITER-tokamak fusion power reactor building at least one, if not two orders of magnitude larger than a building to house a comparable fission reactor.


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Correspondence to Robert L. Hirsch.

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Hirsch, R.L. Revamping Fusion Research. J Fusion Energ 35, 135–141 (2016).

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  • Fusion strategy
  • Fusion policy
  • Utility requirements
  • Regulatory constraints
  • Fusion fuel cycles
  • Fusion neutrons
  • Fusion technology
  • Fusion materials