The fusion technology of tokamaks burning deuterium-tritium fuel has become the mainstream approach towards building commercial nuclear fusion power plants after several decades of research and development. This website has gone into depth to explain the multiple insurmountable problems with this approach.
In the last decade, private fusion companies have appeared proposing diverse alternative approaches. The current page recaps the ideas of the new approaches and how they might resolve the problems with the mainstream approach, observing that fixing one problem often involves creating new problems.
This page includes a section discussing the current status of the international project ITER which is currently in construction as the globally agreed stage in the development of the mainstream fusion approach. This section comments on the incredibly optimistic timescales of the new fusion companies compared to what is the reality of the mainstream approach.
Another section reiterates the point, made throughout the site, that commercial fusion power only makes any sense if the general public opinion continues to believe there are major problems with the technology of fission.
Finally, the simple overall conclusion of the page title is given, followed by some links to pages which explain the conclusion in more detail.
Some of the new private fusion projects propose to use alternative fuels which could remedy the radiation related problems of mainstream fusion. Different fuels could, in principle, solve two of the show-stopper problems for mainstream fusion:
Unfortunately, maintaining fusion reactions with these alternative fuels is much more difficult, requiring much higher temperatures and having much higher energy losses. Many analyses of the plasma physics involved have concluded these alternative fuels can never work for magnetic confinement fusion.
Size is a major drawback for a mainstream fusion reactor and is a reason why a fusion power plant would cost 10 times more than a fission power plant with the same output. Furthermore, the construction of a fusion reactor with the same electrical output as the latest 1.8 GigaWatt fission reactors is simply impossible because of the dimensions required.
Many of the new fusion companies propose devices using new high temperature superconducting materials which allow higher magnetic fields in the plasma and in turn allows higher fusion power densities and so smaller machines for the same power output. Unfortunately, these new superconducting materials are brittle and break more easily than the standard superconductors. Further, the stress forces on the support materials because of the increased field are higher and also the heat fluxes per unit surface area on the plasma facing walls would be higher. Hence the size improvement comes with significant new problems which remain to be solved.
Another massive drawback of the mainstream tokamak designs is that they are assembled in a way which will make repairs of some of the major machine components, such as magnets, impossible. Another consequence is that the regular maintenance must take place through access ports of limited size with complicated remote handling machinery. One of the new fusion companies, CFS , proposes an innovation where their compact tokamak is split into two halves which can be separated to give easy access to all device components. This innovation would allow all tokamak component to be repaired and lead to much shorter maintenance times.
This idea is clever and could solve many of the risks with the mainstream designs. Unfortunately, it undoubtable raises a multitude of different problems which will need solutions
The size reduction idea would be, at best, a factor two compared to standard designs. The new superconductors cost more so the overall saving is not clear, but it is very likely that fusion will still be at least 5 times more expensive than fission and so the economics argument does not change.
For the private fusion companies, technical details of the designs are not always available, and any websites make strong claims without any justification. Hence, the various assessments of these projects on this website necessarily lack depth. About half of the new companies use magnetic confinement techniques and for these the project details can be understood, but for the other projects the ideas seem close to fantasy.
The publicly funded mainstream projects in different countries typically announce the start of commercial fusion in the 2050s while, amazingly, the private enterprises often announce commercial fusion in the 2030s.
It is now very clear that the ITER will not meet its currently announced schedule of first high power fusion operation starting in 2035. The latest in a series of problems with the ITER assembly was announced in Nov 2022 with a post on the ITER website: Key components to be repaired. It is clear that the leaks in the thermal shields described in this post will require design modifications, new or repaired component and major disassembly before ITER assembly can restart. It is clear that this and other problems will add several years delay to the completion of the tokamak. Because all future schedules of national mainstream power plant projects are based on gaining experience from ITER, they will have delays matching the ITER delay.
A reasonable prediction is that ITER will not have fusion reactions before 2040 (producing zero electricity), which is 10 years after the date announced by some private companies for the first commercial fusion electricity on the grid; This situation is difficult to believe but must lead to major decisions for both public and private fusion in the coming decade.
If the "insurmountable" problems discussed here for fusion are somehow or other solved, there remains always the economics of fusion compared to fission. As has been discussed in many pages there are truly no objective advantages of fusion over fission and the cost of fusion is certain to be several times that of fission. Only the safety issue seems able to convince the general public and fusion advocates clearly exploit this to sell their product. Often core meltdown is used to frighten people about fission but this has never been a cause of fission reactor radiation releases only a consequence of other events. Similar or worse radiation releases could possibly occur at fusion reactors with, in fact, similar initiation causes as for fission reactors.
The final conclusion of this website is that commercial fusion power plants will likely never happen.
Below are links to some pages on the website which justify this conclusion.