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John Kerry unveils US roadmap for nuclear fusion

US special envoy John Kerry (centre), with United Nations chief António Guterres and the president of the UAE, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Cop28/Mahmoud Khaled via Reuters
The US special envoy John Kerry (centre), with United Nations chief António Guterres and the president of the UAE, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed
  • ‘Critical piece of energy future’
  • US plan released in Dubai
  • President’s climate envoy at Cop28

John Kerry, the US special envoy on climate, has unveiled his country’s roadmap for international collaboration on nuclear fusion.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Cop28 summit on Tuesday, Kerry said he believed fusion could provide abundant clean energy without the harmful emissions of traditional sources.

“Fusion can be a critical piece of the energy future, along with wind and solar, nuclear fission, geothermal and other forms of energy,” Kerry told the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Forum in Dubai.

“This crisis could not be clearer,” he said. “We are hearing from the best scientists in the world that they’re alarmed – some say terrified, others have all together said we are in uncharted territory.”

In August this year, US scientists announced they had achieved net energy gain in a fusion reaction for the second time since December 2022.

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California described the experiment as “a major scientific breakthrough decades in the making that will pave the way for advancements in national defence and the future of clean power”.

The US strategy unveiled on Tuesday identifies five areas that will help realise the promise of fusion technology. 

They are research and development; supply chain and marketplace; regulation; workforce; and education and engagement.

“This is a call to action,” said Kerry.

International co-operation is critical for fusion energy to reach its potential as an energy source, he added. If it does, it could lift more than 1 billion people out of energy poverty, according to Kerry.

“New computational tools and new materials help us realise and harness the energy of the burning plasma. We are edging closer to a fusion-powered reality,” he said.

Private investments in fusion companies worldwide have totalled $6 billion to date.

Ernest Moniz, former US energy secretary and president and CEO of Energy Futures Initiative, a Washington think tank, said the technology could be a “game changer” in the energy transition.

“There is a very high probability that certainly the conditions for sustained fusion will be demonstrated in the remainder of this decade,” he said.

How does nuclear fusion work?

Nuclear fusion is the merging of two atomic nuclei to create a single nucleus, which releases a huge amount of energy. The same process powers the sun – and scientists in the US and elsewhere use massive lasers to try to replicate it.

Generating and harnessing the energy in a stable and reliable manner is the challenge, but the statistics suggest it’s worth the effort.

Fusion can generate four times more energy per kilogram of fuel than nuclear fission and nearly 4 million times more than burning oil or coal, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Unlike nuclear fission, the atom-splitting technology used in nuclear power plants, fusion does not come with radioactive byproducts or the associated risks of leaks or accidents. 

The heavy hydrogen atoms used in fusion are readily available in the simple form of seawater – and the reactions create no carbon.

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