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US will reveal plans to commercialize nuclear fusion at COP28

US Special Envoy for Climate, John Kerry (center), flanked by CFS CEO Bob Mumgaard (right) and Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi (left). Image: Eni

The US will outline a strategy for commercializing nuclear fusion power on December 5 at a COP28 event in Dubai, John Kerry, the country's special envoy on climate change, announced on Monday.

"Fusion energy is no longer just a science experiment. Benefitting from decades of investment from the [US] Department of Energy's world-leading Fusion Energy Sciences programs, it is now also an emerging climate solution. I will have much more to say on the United States' vision for international partnerships for an inclusive fusion energy future at COP28, during an event on December 5," Kerry commented after visiting the corporate headquarters of Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) near Boston.

CFS is a spin-out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and one among numerous startups working to harness the technology that underpins the sun. The company is currently constructing a demonstrator named SPARC, which (if successful) could become the first magnetic confinement system in the world to demonstrate "scientific energy gain", overcoming a key bane in nuclear fusion: more energy is required to initiate the reaction than is generated from it.

In CFS's plans, SPARC will pave the way for ARC, which the company envisions as the first commercial fusion power plant capable of feeding electricity into the grid. ARC is expected to become operational in the early 2030s.

Bob Mumgaard, the company's CEO, said in a statement: "With SPARC, CFS has the surest path to truly realise fusion energy on a timescale that will impact climate change. Through a coordinated global effort with leaders … the best resources of the public and private sectors can be leveraged and scaled. We are positioned to innovate and deploy real solutions."

One competitor is Helion Energy, a company with the tagline 'First to Fusion'. In May this year, the California-based company signed a deal with Microsoft to sell the software giant electricity generated from nuclear fusion within five years, meaning latest by 2028. 

Regardless of who cross the finish line first, if the nuclear fusion code is cracked, the world can look forward to firm reliable and safe power that will not emit greenhouse gas and does not pose meltdown or radiation threats that come with nuclear fission.

The US has been pushing for breakthroughs in the space. Earlier this year, the country awarded funding to eight companies – CFS was among the eight, Helion was not – for creating designs for a technically and commercially viable fusion pilot plant within five to 10 years.

Commenting on the funding announcement, US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm had said in a statement: "Fusion offers the potential to create the power of the sun right here on Earth", before adding that the US was committed to taking fusion energy "past the lab and toward the grid".

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