Scientists in the United States revealed the country's first plans to open a nuclear fusion power plant by the 2040s.
Though a U.S. fusion power plant could realistically be built by the 2030s, the timeframe was set so that U.S. scientists can learn from big projects like Europe's ITER and China's EAST before designing their own prototype, Popular Mechanics reports.
Future fusion plans
The new U.S. fusion power plant plan was revealed by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Fusion Energy Sciences (FES) department, alongside energy goals for the next two decades.
One of these goals is to "advance the fundamental science of magnetically confined plasmas to develop the predictive capability needed for a sustainable fusion energy source," the DOE explained.
Though there is currently no big fusion project in development in the U.S., the country is a large contributor to ITER in Europe. Science explains how the new plans for the U.S. fusion power plant are influenced by U.S. researchers working on ITER:
"ITER will teach valuable lessons about a “burning plasma,” researchers say. But they add that its cost of more than $20 billion is far too steep for an actual power plant. So, after ITER, U.S. fusion researchers want to build a much smaller, cheaper power plant, leveraging recent advances such as supercomputer simulations of entire tokamaks, 3D printing, and magnet coils made of high-temperature superconductors."
The U.S.'s fusion road map
The new fusion road map by the DOE identifies technological gaps and gives suggestions as to how these can be filled with new facilities and investment.
"By identifying [a power plant] as a goal, that can trigger more research in those areas that support that mission,” says Stephanie Diem, a fusion physicist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
One example is that, in a fusion power plant, a barrage of energetic neutrons would degrade materials, so the report posits that a particle accelerator-based neutron source could be built to test new ones.
The U.S. isn't the only country to have announced future plans for a nuclear fusion power plant — the United Kingdom also recently announced it is looking for a location for its own project.
Fusion power plants promise to give us unlimited power, as the DOE's timeframe shows, that promise is not one we can rush towards.