R. Patrick White* and Liam S. Hines
Edited by Jameson R. McBride and Grant A. Knappe
Article | Aug. 30, 2021
- Renewed interest in fusion technology as a possible clean energy source is driving investment in the development, design, and deployment of commercial fusion power plants.
- The regulatory pathway in the United States for commercial fusion is unclear due to the lack of operating experience.
- Industry proposals to use risk-informed regulatory approaches for initial commercial fusion projects could complicate the licensing process for a first-of-a-kind fusion facility and delay near-term commercial deployment.
- A hybrid deterministic and risk-informed regulatory process that incorporates seven decades of lessons learned in commercial fission could enable the implementation of regulatory requirements that evolve in parallel with the development of commercial fusion facilities.
- This new regulatory approach could enable more rapid deployment of commercial fusion technology and facilitate long-term regulatory stability as fusion energy develops from a first-of-a-kind demonstration technology to a mature low-carbon energy source.
- No fuel constraints: unlike fossil fuels, the different fuels for fusion energy are more abundant – normally consisting of readily available hydrogen isotopes
- No geographic siting constraints: unlike renewable energy, fusion facility siting is not limited based on site conditions such as available wind, solar, hydro, or geothermal resources
- No pollution constraints: unlike fossil fuels or nuclear fission, the main byproducts of fusion reaction are stable, non-toxic gasses such as helium
- No safety constraints: unlike nuclear fission, fusion reactions do not produce long-lived nuclear fission products and would not be vulnerable to nuclear meltdown accidents
Regulatory Challenges for Fusion
As commercial developers seek to make fusion energy a reality, they must also begin to address the operational challenges associated with any new energy source. One significant challenge for fusion energy will be the regulation and licensing of commercial fusion energy facilities. The promise of fusion energy is based on the elimination of fuel, siting, pollution, and safety challenges that constrain other energy technologies. While there are fusion technologies that can theoretically eliminate all of the constraints, the physics and engineering realities associated with most approaches to commercial scale fusion have introduced new challenges. The most technically achievable fusion energy reaction (highest reaction rate at achievable operating temperature and most abundant fuel) combines two isotopes of hydrogen (2H – deuterium and 3H – tritium) to form a helium atom and a neutron. Most developers seeking to demonstrate net-energy gain will utilize this deuterium-tritium fusion reaction for their fusion energy facilities.
Characterizing Regulatory Frameworks is Critical
Current Proposed Frameworks for Commercial Fusion Regulation
The Challenge of Regulating Fusion with Risk-Informed Frameworks
A Hybrid Deterministic and Risk-Informed Regulatory Method Could Enable Rapid Early Deployment and Long Term Regulatory Refinement
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