From “never” to now: NIF through the lens of 60 Minutes

January 23, 2023, 12:00PMNuclear News
NIF in winter (Photo: LLNL)

“Star Power” is the name 60 Minutes producers gave their interpretation of the recent experiment at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) that achieved fusion ignition and net gain. Views from inside Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory captured by TV cameras and aired Sunday, January 15—of some of NIF’s 192 lasers, banks of capacitors, target assembly labs, and even the remains of the target assembly blasted in the December 5 breakthrough—are well worth the watch for those of us who are unlikely to visit the site in person.

DOE awards cost-shared fusion energy research funds to seven companies

January 19, 2023, 9:30AMNuclear News

The Department of Energy’s Office of Science announced $2.3 million in funding on January 17 for 10 fusion energy projects that will allow private companies to work with national laboratories to address specific challenges in fusion energy development. Seven private companies and seven national laboratories are represented in the 10 projects selected for funding, provided through the INFUSE (Innovation Network for Fusion Energy) program. The second-round fiscal year 2022 awards follow a first round of 18 project awards announced in July 2022.

General Fusion demo plant construction will begin this summer

January 16, 2023, 7:02AMNuclear News
A rendering of the planned demo plant. (Image: General Fusion)

The U.K. Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) announced on January 12 that the South Oxfordshire District Council Planning Committee approved a planned fusion energy demonstration project at UKAEA’s Culham Campus. UKAEA and General Fusion, the magnetized target fusion company that designed the demo plant, announced that same day that construction will begin this summer, with commissioning planned for 2026 and full operations by early 2027.

Current and former LLNL staffers plan for inertial fusion energy after record shot

December 20, 2022, 9:30AMNuclear News
A color-enhanced image of the inside of a NIF preamplifier support structure. (Image: LLNL/Damien Jemison)

On December 5, researchers at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory achieved fusion energy breakeven. It was a gain for stockpile stewardship that also—as headlines gushed prior to the Department of Energy’s December 13 announcement—boosted the prospects of inertial fusion energy (IFE). The timing of the landmark achievement may have been especially welcome to private fusion companies with inertial or hybrid magneto-inertial confinement concepts, because it occurred as the DOE was getting ready to consider applications for $50 million in funding for fusion pilot plant design work.

Breakeven breakthrough at the National Ignition Facility

December 13, 2022, 3:02PMNuclear News
The target chamber of LLNL’s NIF, where 192 laser beams delivered more than 2 million joules of ultraviolet energy to a tiny fuel pellet to create fusion ignition on December 5, 2022.

It’s official: Early in the morning on December 5 at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility (NIF), the laser-triggered implosion of a meticulously engineered capsule of deuterium and tritium about the size of a peppercorn yielded, for the first time on Earth, more energy from a fusion reaction than was delivered to the capsule. The input of 2.05 megajoules (MJ) to the target heated the diamond-shelled, spherical capsule to over 3 million degrees Celsius and yielded 3.15 MJ of fusion energy output. The achievement was announced earlier today by officials and scientists representing the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration, the White House, and LLNL during a livestreamed event.

General Fusion marshals CNL support for Canadian fusion power by 2030

November 17, 2022, 12:00PMNuclear News
This still image, taken from a General Fusion video, depicts the demo plant that will be built near Oxford, U.K. (Image: General Fusion)

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) and General Fusion have announced a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to “develop fusion energy research capabilities within CNL, to support the goal of constructing a potential General Fusion commercial power plant in Canada before 2030.” The plant would follow on a demonstration-scale plant that General Fusion wants to have operating in the United Kingdom by 2027 to validate the performance and economics of the technology.

Fusion is prioritized in net-zero R&D initiative and IRA funds, but fission factors in too

November 10, 2022, 3:00PMNuclear News
The U.S. ITER Project Office in Oak Ridge, Tenn. U.S. ITER has received $256 million in Inflation Reduction Act funding. (Photo: U.S. ITER)

Just days before COP27 and the U.S. midterm elections, the White House announced $1.55 billion in Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) funding for national laboratories and the launch of a Net-Zero Game Changers Initiative based on a new report, U.S. Innovation to Meet 2050 Climate Goals. Out of 37 research and development opportunities identified, fusion energy was selected as one of just five near-term priorities for the new cross-agency initiative. Together, the announcements signal policy and infrastructure support for fusion energy—the biggest chunk of Department of Energy Office of Science (DOE-SC) IRA funding went to ITER, via Oak Ridge National Laboratory—and for advanced nuclear technologies to power the grid and provide process heat to hard-to-decarbonize industrial sectors.

Tokamak Energy bets its spherical design will deliver fusion energy in the early 2030s

October 27, 2022, 9:30AMNuclear News

Tokamak Energy’s ST40, which achieved plasma temperatures of 100 million °C earlier this year. (Photo: Tokamak Energy)

Tokamak Energy on October 26 announced plans to construct a high field spherical tokamak using high-temperature superconducting (HTS) magnets. Dubbed the ST80-HTS, the machine would demonstrate multiple technologies required to achieve commercial fusion energy, the company says. Tokamak Energy plans to complete the ST80-HTS in 2026 to demonstrate spherical tokamak operations and inform the design of its successor, a fusion pilot plant called ST-E1 that the company says could deliver electricity into the grid in the early 2030s and produce up to 200 MWe.

Temperature milestone: Earlier this year, the company’s ST40 spherical tokamak reached the commercial fusion energy plasma temperature threshold of 100 million °C with what was reported as the highest triple product (an industry measure of plasma density, temperature, and confinement) of any private fusion energy company. The ST40 achieved those results with a plasma volume of less than one cubic meter, which is 15 times less volume than any other tokamak that has achieved the same threshold.

General Atomics unveils a fusion pilot plant concept

October 24, 2022, 3:07PMNuclear News
A rendering of the GA fusion pilot plant. (Image: GA)

General Atomics (GA) announced on October 20 that it has developed a steady-state, compact advanced tokamak fusion pilot plant concept “where the fusion plasma is maintained for long periods of time to maximize efficiency, reduce maintenance costs, and increase the lifetime of the facility.”

U.K. picks a coal power station for its fusion pilot, but still needs a design

October 11, 2022, 3:00PMNuclear News
The Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production, shown here in an artist's rendition, is a government-backed prototype fusion energy plant planned for operation in the U.K. in the early 2040s. (Image: UKAEA)

The U.K. Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and Tokamak Energy announced on October 10 that they signed a framework agreement to collaborate on developing spherical tokamaks for power production. This news is a complement to last week’s announcement from the U.K. government that the West Burton A coal-fired power plant site in Nottinghamshire has been selected as the future home of STEP (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production), the U.K.’s planned prototype fusion energy plant. The government is providing £220 million (about $250 million) of funding for the first phase of STEP, which will see the UKAEA produce a concept design by 2024.

U.S. fusion pilot program ready to back designs from industry-led teams

September 27, 2022, 7:00AMNuclear News
(Image: Ana Kova /

The Department of Energy announced up to $50 million for a new milestone-based fusion energy development program on September 22. The funding opportunity announcement is open to for-profit companies—possibly teamed with national laboratories, universities, and others—that are prepared to meet major technical and commercialization milestones leading to a pilot fusion power plant design.

Ten private fusion companies get national lab and university access from INFUSE

July 7, 2022, 3:07PMNuclear News

The Department of Energy announced awards for 18 Innovation Network for Fusion Energy (INFUSE) projects on July 6 that link private fusion energy developers with DOE national laboratories (and, in a first for the program, with U.S. universities) to overcome scientific and technological challenges in fusion energy development. The 18 selected projects include representation from 10 private companies, three national labs, and eight universities.

U.K. fusion energy projects get regulatory clarity to speed deployment

June 23, 2022, 7:01AMNuclear News
The Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP), shown here, is a government-backed prototype fusion energy plant planned for operation in the U.K. in the early 2040s. (Image: UKAEA)

Future fusion energy facilities will continue to be regulated by the Environment Agency (EA) and Health & Safety Executive (HSE), the U.K. government announced June 20, and existing law on nuclear regulations will be amended to exclude fusion energy facilities from nuclear fission regulatory and licensing requirements. The move was announced by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) with the expectation it would provide “clarity to developers of prototype/demonstration fusion facilities currently being planned to support rapid commercialization.”

ANS Annual Meeting: A new outlook for fusion

June 16, 2022, 12:01PMNuclear News
Session moderator Scott Hsu (left) led a discussion with (from left) Troy Carter, Kathy McCarthy, Artem Smirnov, Satoshi Konishi, and Jane Hotchkiss during an ANS Annual Meeting executive session on “The New Fusion Outlook.”

A “bold decadal plan” to accelerate fusion research, development, and demonstration in partnership with the private sector emerged from a March 2022 White House Fusion Summit and inspired the June 14 ANS Annual Meeting executive session titled “The New Fusion Outlook.” Moderator Scott Hsu, who is leaving a role as a program director for the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) to become a senior adviser to the DOE’s undersecretary for science and innovation as well as lead fusion coordinator for the DOE, ably led a panel of fusion stakeholders representing universities, national laboratories, private fusion companies, and public policy and communication. The discussion intended to bring attendees with fission experience up to speed on the rapidly accelerating area of fusion energy and explore how the fusion energy community can work toward a unique path for fusion energy regulation and public engagement.

EPFL researchers update fusion’s “Greenwald limit”

June 7, 2022, 3:00PMANS Nuclear Cafe

A newly released study led by physicist Paolo Ricci has revised a fundamental, foundational law of plasma generation and nuclear fusion by showing that more hydrogen fuel can safely be used in fusion reactors, thereby generating more energy than previously thought possible. Ricci, of the Swiss Plasma Center at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), explains that his team’s results indicate that tokamaks, such as the international collaborative project ITER, could use almost twice the amount of hydrogen fuel in their plasmas without the danger of disruption, or loss of confinement of the plasma.

The research team’s findings amend one of the long-time limitations (the so-called Greenwald limit) in generating and sustaining the high-temperature plasma needed to produce fusion energy.

JET celebrates sustained fusion energy production

February 10, 2022, 2:59PMNuclear News
The interior of JET with a superimposed plasma. (Image: EUROfusion)

A new record has been set by the world’s largest operating tokamak, the Joint European Torus (JET). According to the EUROfusion scientists and engineers who work on JET at the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority’s Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, the landmark experiment, announced on February 9, which produced 59 megajoules of fusion energy over five seconds, is powerful proof of fusion’s potential as a clean energy source.

ANS Winter Meeting: Fusion energy needs private-public partnerships and workforce development

December 22, 2021, 7:00AMNuclear News

A major shift in fusion research and development is underway in the United States after recent national reports confirmed resounding support in the fusion community for building a pilot power plant and developing commercial fusion energy. Experts from professional societies, government funding agencies, industry, and the scientific community convened for the 2021 ANS Winter Meeting panel session, “The Future of Commercial Fusion in the U.S.,” to discuss what it will take to make that future a reality.

Euratom program receives EC funding

July 9, 2021, 12:38PMNuclear News
Flags in front of the European Commission building in Brussels. (Image: Sébastien Bertrand)

The European Commission last week adopted the Euratom Work Programme 2021–2022, implementing the Euratom Research and Training Programme 2021–2025, a complement to Horizon Europe, the European Union’s key funding program for research and innovation.

Feasibility study for nuclear hydrogen under way in Canada

June 24, 2021, 3:05PMNuclear News

The Nuclear Innovation Institute (NII) has launched a study on the role of nuclear power in supporting a growing hydrogen economy. The study will be the first of its kind in Canada to evaluate the technical viability and business case for hydrogen production from nuclear power, according to NII, an Ontario, Canada–based nonprofit formed in 2018 to accelerate innovation in the nuclear industry.

Wanted: A regulatory framework for commercial fusion energy

February 5, 2021, 3:00PMNuclear NewsJeffrey Merrifield, Peter Lyons

Fusion devices have yet to sustain a burning plasma and produce usable energy, so it should come as no surprise that there is not yet a framework for regulating commercial fusion energy.

Fusion and fission are two very different ways to release nuclear energy. But how different could their regulation be? There are many possible answers to two central questions: Who will regulate commercial fusion (in the United States, that authority could reside with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or an Agreement State operating under NRC oversight), and what aspects of a fusion plant will they regulate?