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Nuclear Fusion Summit in US Amid Race for Cash, China Rivalry

Hundreds expected to attend conference in Washington DC, where researchers hope to attract more backing to avoid falling behind China in the quest to develop a commercially viable reactor

The National Ignition Facility’s preamplifier module boosts laser energy as it travels to a target chamber at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, which is a federal research site (LLNL handout via Reuters).


Scientists, companies and officials working to develop nuclear fusion will meet in the US this week amid a race for cash – and a rush to beat China – to harness this promising new form of energy.

Key players in this sector will attend a two-day summit in Washington DC. They are anxious to attract more money for research, to avoid falling far behind China, in the quest to develop and build commercially viable reactors.

A funding bill signed by President Joe Biden this month contained $790 million for fusion science programmes this year, but that sum is below the more than $1 billion that backers say is needed.


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Fusion is the nuclear reaction that powers the sun and researchers say it can be replicated on Earth with heat and pressure using lasers or magnets to fuse two light atoms into a denser one, releasing large amounts of energy.

Unlike power plants that run on fission, or splitting atoms, commercial fusion plants – if one can be built – could provide carbon-free electricity, without producing long-lasting radioactive waste.


West keen to lead in fusion, after ‘losing solar to China’

Andrew Holland, CEO of Fusion Industry Association, or FIA, which is hosting the two-day conference, said there is concern that fusion will follow the pattern of the solar industry, where much of the technology was invented in the US, but manufacturing came to be dominated by China.

“It is very clear that China has ambitions to do the same sort of thing, both in the supply chain and the developers,” Holland said. “It’s time for the US to respond to that challenge.”

Private companies around the world have raised more than $6 billion through 2022, a FIA report said last July.

But that report mostly did not count private money going to fusion in China, which is harder to track. Much more private money is needed to bring fusion from lab experiments to commercial enterprises, backers say.

FIA’s third annual conference is expected to attract about 350 attendees from countries including the US, UK, Germany and Japan, more than the roughly 100 attendees in previous years.

Fusion built momentum last year when scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California using lasers repeated a fusion breakthrough. Holland says fusion will be providing power to the grid in a decade.

Not everyone puts faith in that timeline.

“Maybe he means dog years. Even that would be optimistic,” said Victor Gilinsky, a physicist and former Nuclear Regulatory Commission commissioner.

Gilinsky estimates that the energy yielded from the lab reaction, which only lasted an instant, was about 1% of the energy used to fire up the lasers.

Still, Holland said funding fusion research should be a priority in the fight against climate change.

“Fusion should get significantly more and that wouldn’t take away from the deployment of much needed other clean energy technologies.”


  • Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard




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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years.


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