Japan seeks international collaborations in its newly initiated nuclear fusion program

Fan Jen-chih, Taipei, DIGITIMES Asia 0

Credit: AFP

Compared to the challenging issue of nuclear waste with existing nuclear fission power generation technology, nuclear fusion achieved a significant milestone in 2022 by recording energy output greater than input, offering hope for pollution-free nuclear energy generation.

With collaborative efforts between industry, government, and academia in Europe and the United States to promote fusion power generation, Japan plans to establish a similar fusion power generation cooperation organization in March 2024, laying the foundation for commercialization.

According to Nikkei, this organization - tentatively named Fusion Energy Forum - will consist of 50 institutions and companies, including nuclear technology startups, energy companies, and civil engineering firms. The basic structure will emulate the Fusion Industry Association (FIA) in the United States, which has over 100 members and will be responsible for establishing technical and business standards for nuclear fusion power generation.

While nuclear fusion power generation technology has overcome a significant hurdle, the development of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), a collaborative effort between Europe, the United States, and Japan, has faced challenges with some components. Scheduled for activation in 2025, it has been delayed to before 2030. Consequently, governments estimate that commercializing nuclear fusion power generation will not occur until around 2050.

In contrast to previous large-scale research projects in Japan, which aimed to establish Japan-exclusive standards, the Fusion Energy Forum will adopt an open attitude towards foreign institutions and companies because many technological details involved in fusion power remain unspecified, and the ITER faces component-related hurdles.

Fusion Energy Forum aims to be a gateway for Japanese and international collaboration, providing an advantageous opportunity for other countries to join midway.

Its immediate technological goals include encouraging investments and developments in materials and components industries, such as the Japanese government-initiated MiRESSO's refined beryllium metal technology. Another goal is establishing a low-cost supply chain with economic value, ensuring the financial and environmental costs of nuclear fusion power generation are equal to or even lower than those of nuclear fission or renewable energy, reaching a commercially viable level.

Current research on nuclear fusion power generation technology minimizes the emission of nuclear waste and carbon pollution while deriving its energy source from seawater refinement. With 1 gram of fuel fusion producing energy equivalent to about 8 tons of petroleum, it is an ideal energy source for Japan, which is both coastal and lacking in natural resources, and similarly for Taiwan.

However, the priority challenges remain in stabilizing control over the fusion reaction at temperatures reaching 100 million degrees Celsius and addressing societal concerns about nuclear power.