Bringing fusion energy to the grid: What is needed from the EU

By Cyrille Mai Thanh, EU Affairs Director Fusion Industry Association

Fusion is the process by which two light atoms collide and fuse together to form a single heavier one while releasing massive amounts of energy. The sun is powered by this fusion reaction. Since the 1950s, top scientists and engineers have attempted to harness the power of the sun on Earth to create unlimited, clean energy. In recent years, significant scientific breakthroughs in fusion have been achieved with experiments demonstrating net energy gain.

This new source of energy has many advantages: it is baseload, carbon-free, safe, scalable, and secure. With an extremely high energy density, fusion could generate nearly four million times more energy than burning oil or coal. 1 kilogram of fusion fuel is equivalent to 10 million kilograms of fossil fuels. This means fusion represents a great solution for decarbonising our economy while meeting growing energy demands.

Fusion power is not bound by geography and will eliminate dependence on energy sources from other countries which can be subject to political instability and supply disruptions. Recently, Europe has experienced first-hand how a single foreign country can weaponize energy supplies and cause major disruptions in the energy markets. This means fusion energy could help reinforce the energy security and strategic autonomy of our continent.

Fusion can be used as a strategic technology foEurope’s independence.

Industry plays a critical role in turning fusion energy into reality

Fusion commercialisation is within reach. Many fusion companies are planning to build pilot plants in this coming decade. In fact, leading private fusion companies have aggressive timelines aiming to build their next fusion device in the next five years. We recently conducted a survey which highlights that 88% of fusion companies believe that the first fusion power plant will deliver electricity to the grid in the 2030s or before.

The private sector plays an important role in advancing fusion by directly contributing to its development and bringing in the know-how, expertise, and much-needed capital. Industry also contributes to tackling existing engineering challenges. Fusion

To date, the fusion industry has attracted over 6 billion dollars in investment globally. In recent years, there has been an exponential increase in the number of private fusion initiatives using various technological approaches launched throughout the world. Commercial fusion is a capital-intensive endeavour and securing funding is vital, so policy incentives are needed to encourage private and public investment flow towards the fusion industry.

Establishing clear, fusion-specific regulatory frameworks also contributes to de-risking fusion and unlocking further private investment.

Fusion companies are pursuing commercialisation along technically diverse pathways, including variations in fuel type and device type. For the fusion industry, that diversity increases the chances of success by engaging in multiple pursuits simultaneously. Early movers will have a competitive advantage in a new emerging industry that is estimated to be worth trillions of euros. We are seeing growing momentum around fusion; Europe should seize the opportunity to be part of this revolution.

Strong political support is essential to accelerate the development of fusion

The successful deployment of fusion energy in Europe requires political impetus, regulatory certainty, sufficient public funding, and strong public-private partnerships.

The EU should send a clear political signal to support commercial fusion and help its European startups scale up.

Following the example of the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Germany, the EU should have its own Fusion Strategy. It could also launch a European Alliance on Fusion like it has done with batteries and hydrogen, to help stimulate investments and foster a dialogue with the fusion industry.

An adequate fusion regulatory framework that is clearly distinct from nuclear fission is also needed in Europe. Fusion energy does not bear the same risks as nuclear fission; the two technologies are inherently different and should therefore not be regulated under the same regime. Instead, fusion devices should fall under a risk-appropriate regime, similar to particle accelerators.

While ensuring the health and safety of the public, regulatory certainty will also de-risk fusion and unlock further private investment. It is important to achieve this as companies are in the process of siting locations for their first plants. Even if the licensing of future fusion projects will happen at Member State level, the European Commission can still play a crucial role in

The EU should learn from international approaches in fusion

The US and the UK have both adopted dedicated regulatory frameworks for fusion, and other countries are working to develop theirs. The EU needs to do the same. Future fusion devices in the US will be regulated under the same regime as particle accelerators, enabling faster permitting procedures and less delay. The UK has gone even further to appropriately separate fusion from fission, advising that future fusion facilities will be regulated by the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive, rather than the Office for Nuclear Regulation.

There is a geopolitical competition dimension to this issue as well. A global race toward commercial fusion energy is emerging.

Out of 43 private fusion companies around the world, 25 are American. The first countries that can set up an appropriate regulatory regime for fusion will be the ones that attract the early pilot plants. Europe’s leadership in fusion can only be sustained thanks to strong political support.

Furthermore, supply chains are likely to be established across the globe. For this reason, harmonisation of safety frameworks for fusion facilities could optimise resources for safety. The G7 and the “International Energy Agency (IEA)” are ideal fora to discuss such global harmonisation. The earlier such harmonisation efforts are made, the smoother cross-border projects will be.

Access to funding and public-private partnerships are essential

Access to funding is crucial to deploy commercial fusion. The EU could leverage many existing funding instruments in its toolbox, including the Euratom programme, InvestEU, Innovation Fund, Important Projects of Common European Interest (IPCEIs), and relaxed State Aid rules. Including fusion energy within the EU Taxonomy would also help encourage private investments.

Public fusion research must be aligned to the needs of commercialisation. The gaps in fusion science and technology are well-understood by both the public and private fusion sectors. To enable commercialisation in the near term, research must prioritise closing those gaps. Strong public-private partnerships (PPPs) are needed to advance fusion energy. Indeed, a close collaboration between research institutes and private entrepreneurs will unlock a commercial fusion energy sector.

Europe could become a global leader in fusion energy

Europe must ramp up its efforts to support the deployment of clean tech.

Europe is excellent when it comes to the discovery of new innovation and is doing quite well in the development phase, but it is clearly lagging behind in deployment. There is a global competition for technology supremacy. If Europe loses its leadership in technologies like fusion due to inaction, it would have no one to blame but itself.

Europe is home to top universities and research institutes, hosts ITER (the world’s largest experimental fusion project), and trains highly qualified engineers and technicians. But the EU should outline a clear political vision for the deployment of commercial fusion in order not to lose its leadership in fusion.

The EU is well-positioned to be a global leader in developing commercial fusion. Europe already has a solid industrial ecosystem and extensive supply chain in place, along with a highly qualified workforce and research base. Europe should seize the opportunity to take fusion energy to commercial reality, providing European citizens with a new source of safe, abundant, carbon-free energy, and preserving its leadership in an emerging industry.





The Fusion Industry Association is the voice of the private sector of fusion energy, with 37 member companies developing fusion projects around the world and over 80 affiliate member companies operating in the fusion value chain, including large industrial players as well as investors. Our members have a shared vision to make commercial fusion energy a reality.