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Fusion: Expensive and Taking Forever?

Lopes Cardozo, N.J., Lange, A.G.G. & Kramer, G.J. J Fusion Energ (2016) 35: 94. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10894-015-0012-7

This is our article.

Abstract

The road map of fusion power is compared to the development and deployment of other energy technologies. A generic deployment model is presented, which describes the fastest deployment (of any new technology) achievable with the constraint that the industrial capacity that needs to be built up must be continuous and should not overshoot the replacement market in the final, saturated state. It is shown that the development needs an 'investment' phase to build up industrial capacity which takes several decades, during which growth is typically exponential, but net energy production is negligible. During the exponential growth the cost is dominated by the capital investment, which allows for a simple comparison of different energy technologies. Fusion is at the start of the exponential growth phase, while still having significant uncertainties concerning its technical feasibility. In comparison to e.g. solar PV and wind, fusion is 'late', lagging by some 50 years. To follow the same rate of development that fission, wind and PV have shown, fusion will need to have 3 DEMO reactors operational in the early 2050s, followed by 10 generation one (GEN1) plants in the early 2060s and 100 GEN2 plants in the early 2070s. For the cost development to be comparable, an estimated allowable cost for one DEMO reactor is ~20 G$. While these indicative numbers for the pace and cost of development are very challenging but perhaps not unthinkable for fusion, this analysis does point towards an emphasis on 'simpler and cheaper' reactor designs.