Molecules.

+ New, more resistant materials need to be developed to ensure fusion can compete in the electricity marketplace.

As scientists get closer to achieving nuclear fusion reliably and economically, we need to invest in the materials a new generation of nuclear fusion power plants will require. 

The vast amounts of energy released from fusion are in the form of very energetic neutrons. But these high-energy neutrons are damaging to many materials – so new, more resistant materials need to be developed to ensure fusion can compete in the electricity marketplace.

This work is gaining momentum. Computer modelling of material structures is becoming ever more advanced – and new experimental facilities – such as the newly opened Materials Research Laboratory at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) – is enabling micromechanical testing of candidate materials on a tiny scale (thinner than a human hair).

Results from ITER (a multinational project that is being built in the south of France) and materials testing will fix the design of the first demonstration power station (DEMO) - due to produce electricity in the 2040s according to Europe’s Roadmap to Fusion Electricity. China and South Korea are both working hard on their own DEMO machines – aiming to beat Europe to first electricity. European industry must keep up – and act quickly to ensure it is well placed when the fusion economy arrives. 

Preventing severe climate change requires a radical shift in energy supply as soon as possible. Current technologies – fission, renewables and carbon capture and storage – can meet the challenge for a few decades, but we need more in the long term. Fusion can provide this – but we need to hurry. Shaving a decade off the fusion timescales by investing an extra €50 billion (with a significant investment in materials research) would be well worth it.