South Korea makes billion-dollar bet on fusion power


South Korea has embarked on the development of a preliminary concept design for a fusion power demonstration reactor in collaboration with the US Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) in New Jersey.

The project is provisionally named K-DEMO (Korean Demonstration Fusion Power Plant), and its goal is to develop the design for a facility that could be completed in the 2030s in Daejeon, under the leadership of the country’s National Fusion Research Institute (NFRI).

South Korea is already developing the Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (K-STAR) project and contributing to ITER, the €15-billion (US$20-billion) experimental reactor being built in Cadarache, France, under the auspices of an international collaboration. K-DEMO is intended to be the next step toward commercial reactors and would be the first plant to actually contribute power to an electric grid.

“It is a very smart strategy to take advantage of the experience gained in constructing ITER and to immediately proceed to construct a fusion power plant like K-DEMO,” says Stephen Dean, president of Fusion Power Associates, an advocacy group in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

K-DEMO will serve as prototype for the development of commercial fusion reactors. According to the PPPL, it will generate “some 1 billion watts of power for several weeks on end”, a much greater output than ITER’s goal of producing 500 million watts for 500 seconds by the late 2020s.

Building up know-how

In early 2012, the South Korean Ministry of Education, Science and Technology announced that developing technologies to build K-DEMO would be a priority for the next 10 years, establishing the know-how to permit the construction of a commercial fusion power plant between 2022 and 2036. The government also announced that it planned to invest about 1 trillion won (US$941 million) in the project. About 300 billion won of that spending has already been funded, according to a source within the ministry.

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