- IAEA Opens Initiative to Enhance Fusion Energy Collaboration
- ‘Formidable Challenges Ahead for Fusion – Funding and Policy Support Needed
- UK Provides Details of £650 Million Funding For Nuclear Fusion
- Nuward / French SMR Developer Plans Construction by 2030
- Nuclear Companies Sign Up for Space Technology Missions
- DOE Issues RFI for Clean Energy Projects at INL
IAEA Opens Initiative to Enhance Fusion Energy Collaboration
(IAEA Press Statement) The IAEA’s Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi opened the IAEA’s 29th International Fusion Energy Conference (FEC) in London with the announcement an inaugural meeting of the World Fusion Energy Group will be convened next year. (IAEA video opening session – runtime 72 min)
This group aims to bring together scientists and engineers from laboratories and experimental centers, and also policy makers, financiers, regulators and private companies. This collaboration will enable these stakeholders to keep pace as the fusion energy journey continues from the experimental stage towards demonstration, with the eventual goal of commercial fusion energy production.
The announcement comes as interest in fusion energy research gains momentum around the world. Fusion has the potential to provide a source of limitless, inherently safe, clean and affordable energy.
“Big science needs collaboration, and it doesn’t get much bigger than fusion energy,” Director General Grossi said in his opening statement on 10/16/. (IAEA Video)
“I will shortly invite fusion experts to work with the IAEA to outline Fusion Key Elements such as fusion-related definitions, characteristics and criteria for fusion energy to help develop common understanding among stakeholders essential for global deployment,” he added.
The Fusion Key Elements are expected to be identified in time for the inaugural gathering of the World Fusion Energy Group next year.
The IAEA also launched a new publication at the opening of the conference, the IAEA World Fusion Outlook 2023, a comprehensive guide on fusion’s journey from vision to reality. The publication aims to become a global reference for authoritative information regarding the latest developments in fusion energy.
The IAEA supports fusion research by providing atomic and physics data through seven fusion databases, as well as other opportunities for scientific collaboration through its Fusion Portal and Fusional Device Information System.
In the past weeks, the IAEA signed a partnership with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to set up the first Collaborating Center focused on fusion. The IAEA is also collaborating with companies such as Eni, Commonwealth Fusion Systems, General Atomics, Tokamak Energy and First Light Fusion who are at the forefront of fusion research and development.
Around 2000 people will gather at this year’s FEC to discuss the achievements made over the past two years since the previous conference. These include; the Joint European Torus (JET)’s world energy record; the National Ignition Facility (NIF)’s scientific energy gain; MIT and Commonwealth Fusion Systems’ high-temperature superconducting magnet and the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST)’s long-pulse operation.
In addition, billions of dollars have been invested into private sector fusion research, reflected in the FEC session, Pathways to Fusion, bringing together public and private sector developments.
A Women in Fusion side event was held as part of the FEC conference. The event promotes greater gender equality and diversity in the fusion energy workforce, which currently stands at 20% women. In March, the Women in Fusion launched a mentoring program to support the professional development of women working in all aspects of the fusion sector – from research to engineering to communications.
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Nuclear Fusion /‘Formidable Challenges Remain And Increased Private Funding And State Support Are Needed
- IAEA head tells UK conference technology is making progress and ‘we are closer than we believe’
Image: Fusion Industry Association, Washington, DC
(NucNet) Recent progress suggests nuclear fusion could be part of the global long-term plan for net zero, but “formidable” challenges remain and increased private funding combined with state commitment is needed to drive the sector forward, International Atomic Energy Agency director-general Rafael Grossi said.
Addressing the 29th IAEA Fusion Energy Conference in London, Grossi said fusion can play a role in climate change mitigation and satisfy rising electricity demands, but “many steps are needed to realize this technology”.
He said fusion is making progress and “we are closer than we believe”. More than $6 billion (€5.7B) has gone into private sector fusion projects, but the next step needs to be taken from experiment to demonstration, and then to commercial fusion energy production.
One of the most significant challenges is plasma confinement, or confining the hot fusion plasma inside the reactor core.
Other challenges are related to successfully generating a high temperature plasma at high density for long times and securing a supply of deuterium-tritium fuel – the most common choice for future fusion plants.
The fuel challenge is to develop the technology to breed the tritium component of the fusion fuel using the neutrons released in an ongoing reaction.
New Report Describes Obstacles
In a new report on nuclear fusion, the IAEA called for common positions on technical and policy issues, and greater harmonization in the fusion sector. It said it plans to develop a set of principles for design safety, safety assessment and regulation of fusion facilities and is “laying down a critical foundation for these principles.”
The report, World Fusion Outlook 2023, describes development needs, technology gaps and other obstacles in transforming R&D into deployable fusion energy technology.
Grossi announced at the conference that the IAEA will convene the inaugural World Fusion Energy Group next year, bringing together scientists and engineers, policymakers, financiers, regulators and civil society.
“This next leg of the fusion energy journey will get us from experiment to demonstration to commercial fusion energy production,” he said.
Grossi said progress had been made at fusion projects in a number of countries, including the first laboratory demonstration of fusion “energy-gain” – where more fusion energy is output than input by the laser beams.
He also cited progress at Europe’s leading fusion laboratory – the Joint European Torus (Jet) in Oxfordshire, England, and at the €20bn ($21.9bn) International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) nuclear fusion project in France.
ITER Faces Multiple Challenges
In July 2020, the ITER project – the biggest of its kind in the world – began its five-year assembly phase. Millions of components will be used to assemble the giant reactor, which will weigh 23,000 tonnes. The project is the most complex engineering endeavor in history.
In July, the budget committee of the European Parliament was told that ITER was at a critical moment and facing “technical and regulatory difficulties” as executives work to finalize a new schedule and key targets.
Note to Readers: Scientific American for its June 2023 issue has a long article that details multiple technical, management, and regulatory issues that contribute to the delay in its completion. Currently, there is no definite date for this outcome.
FACT BOX – Major Challenges to Fusion
The major challenges for commercial fusion are:
- Plasma heating: achieving and sustaining temperatures in
excess of 100 million C;
- Plasma confinement: confining the hot fusion plasma inside the reactor core;
- Fusion materials: finding the right materials to withstand the
extreme conditions from which to construct the fusion reactor wall and vessel;
- Fusion fuel: developing the technology to breed the tritium component of the fusion fuel using the neutrons released in an ongoing reaction;
- Energy extraction: steadily extracting the enormous amount of energy that is produced and converting it into electricity or using it as process heat;
- Maintenance: operating fusion power plants with high availability, which requires novel, rapid maintenance schemes, including remote handling.
Source: IAEA World Fusion Outlook 2023, IAEA, Vienna (2023)
Prior Coverage on this blog: Ten Tough Questions for Fusion Developers
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UK Provides Details of £650 Million Funding For Nuclear Fusion
(NucNet) In September the UK has announced £650m (€750m, $791m) in funding for a new program that aims to put the country at the forefront of the nuclear fusion race and train thousands of people across the country for a career in “innovative fusion technology”.
Speaking at the International Atomic Energy Agency Fusion Energy Conference in London on 10/16, nuclear minister Andrew Bowie set out details of the Fusion Futures Program which is part of the UK’s updated Fusion Strategy released in October 2021.
The £650m will include up to £200m for a fuel cycle testing facility, up to £200m for R&D on components for future fusion power plants and up to £50m for improving the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA) dedicated research campus in Culham, Oxfordshire.
Up to £55m has been allocated for a program to train over 2,200 people over the next five years by working with business and universities to expand fusion training.
The government said fusion could generate a near unlimited supply of clean electricity in the long-term and its development in the UK will help to create jobs, grow the economy, and strengthen the country’s energy security.
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Nuward / French SMR Developer Plans To Start Demonstrator Construction ‘As Early As 2030’
- Taking a fleet approach, Nuward’s team said, “‘We should prepare conditions to deploy not one or two plants, but dozens.”
Crassous told NucNet that Nuward is considering already existing nuclear sites in France to deploy a pilot 340 MW SMR. He said he could not disclose an exact location at this stage.
Nuward will be a Generation III pressurized water reactor plant combining two 170- MW reactor modules for a total output of 340 MW. One of the main characteristics of the plant will be the integration of proven PWR technology into a compact modular configuration.
The project is being led by Nuward, a subsidiary of France’s EDF set up in March 2023. Nuward also involves the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), French industrial group Naval Group, reactor design and maintenance company TechnicAtome, nuclear company Framatome and engineering company Tractebel.
The Nuward SMR is in the basic design phase, which is expected to be completed at the end of 2026 or in early 2027, according to Crassous. This phase aims to bring the design of the SMR to maturity and includes describing all the equipment and specifications for each part of the plant.
Crassous said that earlier this year, Nuward completed a conceptual design for the plant covering the initial idea and engineering concept, and submitted a safety report to the French regulator, a move he described as a “milestone” since it marks the start of the prelicensing phase. Results of the regulatory review are expected in 2024.
Cost Aims To Be ‘Competitive With Coal And Gas’
In terms of projected costs, Crassous did not disclose details but said Nuward wants to be competitive with coal and gas-fired power in the range of €50 to €100 per MWh of baseload production
“So, our target is to be better than coal and gas and this will not be easy because I am sure that the first-of-a-kind SMR of all developers will be relatively expensive. It is the rationale of SMRs [modularity] and the economies of the series effect which will lead to competitiveness.”
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the “series effect” results in economies through the standardization of factory production and feedback from the onsite deployment of several identical plants. First concrete for a pilot Nuward plant is slated to be poured in 2030, marking the formal start of construction, Crassous said.
Fleet Mode is the Plan
“We still need to demonstrate it is possible to deploy SMRs in series,” he said and added: “It is a classical chicken and egg dilemma.”
“We will manage to do it only if we have a perspective for series, not only with the one first of a kind demonstrator. We should prepare conditions to deploy not one or two SMRs, but dozens.”
“We need to be transparent about the stage of design, about the uncertainties and provide clarity to stakeholders about the state of the technology, the supply chain bottlenecks.”
The Challenges To Deployment
Asked about challenges to deployment, Crassous said standardization and harmonization of licensing requirements across various countries and potential markets could be improved
“If one has to redesign the reactors when deploying to another country, one will have serious difficulties to achieve a series effect,” he said.
“To make a perfect reactor acceptable to everyone and everywhere is likely impossible and will be very costly” he said, adding that trying to find a middle ground acceptable to everybody is the way forward.
Nuward wants to mobilize knowhow in the French and European nuclear industries to speed up the development of its SMR pilot project, Crassous said.
Experience and supply chains from EPR projects in France, Finland and the UK will play a role in these efforts. Crassous said Nuward decided in 2021 to open its supply chain to European participants and form partnerships across the continent to make Nuward a Europe-based project.
Nuward’s efforts include talks with several European nuclear safety authorities – Finland, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Poland and the Netherlands – for a joint early review of their SMR design, led by the French regulator ASN.
SMRs could address different needs on the reactor market, for example in places where large-scale is inapplicable due to grid restrictions, spatial limitations, or scarce financing availability, he said.
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Nuclear Companies Sign Up for Space Technology Missions
(WNN) With nuclear technology set to underpin new developments in space travel, NASA has awarded Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation a contract to manufacture and test fuel and develop the design of a nuclear thermal propulsion engine for near-term missions.
Separately, Space Nuclear Power Corporation has partnered with Lockheed Martin Corporation and BWX Technologies for the US Space Force/Air Force’s JETSON nuclear electric propulsion demonstration project, while Framatome has announced the creation of a new brand, Framatome Space.
Conceptual Diagram of a Nuclear Rocket System. Image: NASA Glenn
Ultra Safe NASA Contract
The $5 million NASA contract announced by USNC will require the company manufacture and test the advanced, proprietary fuel it has already developed through internal research and development efforts. Simultaneously, the company will collaborate with its commercial partner, Blue Origin, to mature the design of a nuclear thermal propulsion engine which has been optimized for near-term civil science and cislunar (between the Earth and the Moon) space missions.
This latest contract will move nuclear thermal propulsion “move from the paper phase into hardware”, Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) said. The effort will build on the foundations laid by NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s DRACO – short for Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations – program, which aims to demonstrate a nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) system in orbit by 2027.
Vishal Patel, USNC program manager for Nuclear Propulsion, said the coming months will be a “critical and exciting” time for NTP, which still needs significant development before it is ready to be deployed to move “real” payloads in space.
USNC Chief Scientist for Advanced Technologies Michael Eades said USNC earlier this year delivered uranium nitride-coated uranium oxycarbide tristructural isotropic (TRISO) fuel to NASA’s Space Nuclear Power and Propulsion program. This latest contract builds on that delivery, with USNC manufacturing fuel assemblies for testing in prototypic conditions. The company will also build and test critical safety systems for the NTP engine, which is a prerequisite for eventual testing of the integrated nuclear system at a DOE site.
SpaceNukes joins JETSON
The JETSON – Joint Emergent Technology Supplying On-orbit Nuclear Power – nuclear electric propulsion demonstration project was launched in January when the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL)/Space Vehicle Directorate issued solicitations to industry for high and low-power spacecraft concepts and designs using nuclear fission, rather than solar panels, for propulsion.
On October 3rd, the AFRL awarded Lockheed Martin, Westinghouse Government Services and Intuitive Machines LLC separate contracts totaling over $53 million to develop the technologies and spacecraft concepts.
Space Nuclear Power Corporation (SpaceNukes), which is commercializing Kilopower space fission reactor technology under license from Los Alamos National Laboratory, announced on October 16th that it has partnered with Lockheed Martin Corporation and BWX Technologies for the JETSON project.
Lockheed Martin-Space is to provide the spacecraft portion of the work; SpaceNukes will design and guide the assembly of the nuclear reactor power system which will provide electrical power to the spacecraft; and BWX Technologies will “bring their extensive experience in reactor development and manufacturing to ensure the reactor design is fit for the purpose.
SpaceNukes co-founder and CEO Andy Phelps said, “”The potential of fission power in space is immense and the US must start with a small step to create the expertise and infrastructure needed to provide truly astounding and game-changing capabilities.,”
Framatome Joins the Space Race
Framatome has announced the creation of Framatome Space, which it said is putting the French company’s 65 years of nuclear and industrial expertise at the service of the space industry. The company is already supporting the French Alternative Energies & Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) and Ariane Group with a feasibility study on an nuclear thermal propulsion engine and earlier this year announced plans with USNC to form a joint venture to manufacture TRISO particles on a commercial scale.
Vice President, Strategy at Framatome and Framatome Space Grégoire Lambert said the company is ready to play a “decisive role” in the future of space exploration. “We firmly believe that nuclear is a game changer to provide the amount of energy needed by any development.”
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DOE Issues RFI for Clean Energy Projects at INL
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) issued a request for information (RFI) to identify industry partners interested in developing commercial clean energy projects on DOE land in eastern Idaho. DOE is considering leasing land located on the 890-square-mile Idaho National Laboratory (INL) site.
“Opening federal land for clean energy generation will help the nation achieve its ambitious climate goals,” said Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Dr. Kathryn Huff.
The RFI is open to industry, government, Tribes, and community members who wish to comment on the potential use of INL land for carbon-free electricity projects. Comments must be submitted no later than 5 pm MT on December 15, 2023.
This RFI is part of DOE’s Cleanup to Clean Energy initiative to increase clean energy production by making DOE land available for potential carbon-free energy projects. DOE is also holding a Cleanup to Clean Energy Information Day at INL on October 25, 2023, and inviting leaders in nuclear energy, wind, solar, geothermal, net-zero microgrids, and other clean energy technologies to participate. Attendees will have a chance to learn more about the Cleanup to Clean Energy initiative, the RFI, and the INL site.
After the RFI closes, DOE will review comments and announce next steps to identify potential opportunities for carbon-free electricity projects on DOE land. DOE has not made any final decisions and will continue to communicate with Tribes and stakeholders on proposed land uses.
DOE also issued a RFI focused on generating clean energy at the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina. Roughly 13,200 acres of DOE land has been identified at SRS for industrial activities, including carbon-free electricity generation and storage.
More information on Cleanup to Clean Energy can be found at Cleanup to Clean Energy – Expanding Clean Energy Generation on DOE Lands.
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