Russia and Australia look to fusion future

17 August 2007

Russian and Australian scientists are looking to secure their countries' roles in the future development of nuclear fusion power in separate moves. The Russian government has adopted a draft strategy for developing nuclear fusion to 2050. Meanwhile, Australian scientists are pushing for funding to enable them to be involved in the international fusion project ITER.

Fusion is the energy source of the sun and the stars, where two light atomic nuclei fuse together to form a heavier nucleus. It offers the prospect of safe, almost inexhaustible and clean energy for future generations but it also presents staggeringly huge scientific and engineering challenges.

Fusion technology would be a future source of environmentally-friendly and nearly inexhaustible energy supply for Russia's economy, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov told the Russian government at its meeting to approve the draft strategy for fusion development to 2015 and beyond. Tasking Rosatom with preparing a revised version by 1 October, he called for the strategy to be as target-specific as possible: "It should be a real plan of moving forward both technically and financially," he said.

The draft strategy sees the allocation of 525 billion roubles (about $20 billion) to fusion projects up to 2050, and includes participation in international projects. The first stage of the strategy, covering 2009-2015, would focus on creating "administrative and economic conditions" conducive to building the basics of fusion power generation, developing basic technologies under a federal programme and building foundations for Russian participation in the ITER project. The second stage (2016-2030) envisages the development of technologies and materials for fusion power reactors, and would coincide with the start of testing on the international DEMO reactor - an electricity-generating demonstration fusion reactor following on from the ITER project. The construction of a commercial Russian fusion energy facility is anticipated during the third stage (2031-2050).

Speaking on the eve of the government meeting, academician Yevgeny Velikhov emphasised the need for Russia to move quickly on fusion. "If we fail to adopt this programme now, we will soon lose the existing scientific potential and professional cardre [to implement the strategy]," he told journalists.

Australian scientists are also keen not to lose out on fusion development. A network of over 130 Australian scientists and engineers have launched a bid for over A$60 million ($47 million) over 10 years to enable it to be involved in the ITER project. Phsyicist Matthew Hole, chairman of the Australian ITER Forum, described ITER as the world's largest science project. The money would be spent on fellowships and travel for scientists working directly on the ITER project or on ITER-related science and would also fund Australian scientists to build a component for the reactor.

ITER is an acronym for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, and also means 'the way' in Latin. Seven parties - China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the European Union - signed an implementation agreement in November 2006 to build the reactor at Cadarache in France. Construction is due to begin in 2008, with operation around 2015.

Further information

Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering

WNA's Nuclear Fusion Power information paper

 Fusion project implementation agreed