In December, Japan’s Naka experimental power plant was officially introduced to the world, taking its place as the largest fusion power plant yet. The 15-meter high plant is equipped with a ring-shaped vacuum and fusion plasma that is controlled by superconducting magnets. Despite being designed to control the plasma for only about 100 seconds, it marks a significant milestone in fusion power research.
The primary goal of Naka is not to produce electricity, as fusion reactors have a long way to go before they can generate energy on a large scale. However, the difficulty of controlling plasma lies in its intense heat, requiring temperatures of over one hundred million degrees Celsius for hydrogen isotopes to combine into helium and produce energy.
Japan’s refurbished JT-60SA power plant is currently working to control plasma with magnets. The next step for scientists is to build a larger facility in Europe, with a joint project between Japan and the European Union already underway for Iter in southern France. Iter is expected to be operational by the middle of the next decade and will produce ten times the amount of energy needed to start fusion reactors.
However, due to significant cost delays and increases from original estimates, the true potential of fusion power plants that generate electricity hinges upon Iter’s success as a test facility. Despite these challenges, scientists are optimistic about the future of fusion power and its potential to provide cleaner and more sustainable energy sources.