Fusion is developing fast and gaining momentum as a climate solution, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said at a special event at COP28 in Dubai. The event highlighted the critical turning point reached by fusion energy and the growing consensus that international partnerships in fusion are the way forward.

Attending the event with Grossi were Christofer Mowry, CEO of US private fusion company Type One Energy and Chair of the Fusion Industry Association (FIA) Board as well as Laban Coblentz, Head of Communication at ITER. They highlighted fusion energy’s increasing technical readiness and strong market interest and the need for increased global collaborations among different stakeholders including governments, private industry, international organisations, NGOs, and investors through the IAEA's newly announced World Fusion Energy Group (WFEG).

“This new initiative aims to enhance fusion energy collaboration and drive the discussion on fusion energy development forward, thereby bringing together public and private sectors, industry, academia and civil society in a holistic and collaborative setting to accelerate the fusion energy journey from the experimental stage towards demonstration and ultimately commercialization of fusion energy”, said Grossi. The inaugural meeting of the WFEG will take place in 2024.

Until recently, the fusion private sector was relatively small, with few available investments for private companies. However, in the past few years, the private fusion landscape has seen a drastic increase in both companies and investments. The IAEA World Fusion Outlook and FIA report that private fusion entities continue to grow in number (43 to date), and total private investment in the fusion sector has exceeded $6bn.

The companies involved vary in technology, strategies, and levels of funding, but all move the global fusion community a step closer towards a shared goal: the development of fusion as a viable energy source. Governments are stepping up their efforts to engage with private industries to accelerate the path from research to the commercialisation of fusion energy and this is leading to significant developments in the field which will support the clean energy transition.

“The IAEA has a very important role to play in bringing fusion energy to the world, by providing a robust platform which convenes key stakeholders in this endeavour,” said Christofer Mowry. “The fusion community needs the experience and capability which the IAEA provides as a strong global convener in critical areas like regulation, complementing other initiatives announced here at COP28”, he added.

COP28 also saw the launch of a Fusion Energy Task Force by the Sustainable Markets Initiative, aiming to accelerate the commercialisation of fusion energy by facilitating broader market participation from both private and public sectors and industry. In addition, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry announced a call to actions for engagement on fusion energy. He stressed five overarching goals of international partnerships – R&D, supply chains and market strategies, regulatory framework, workforce development and public education – all of which align with the WFEG announced by IAEA. Kerry emphasised the need for additional international partnership and cooperation in order to eventually make the energy source commercially available.

Along with Kerry’s announcement, the White House released a fact sheet with specific information about the US five-part plan for nuclear fusion. The statement reiterates the need for international cooperation, including open access to costly experimental fusion and test facilities and the adoption of technology protection to safeguard against predatory economic practices. It also features the goal of expanding the technology for worldwide use, including the creation of a workforce to support such expansion. In order to build public understanding of the new technology, public engagement activities will also be reportedly essential. The last pillar includes the creation of regulatory frameworks to create a secure environment for fusion energy development.

“We are edging ever-closer to a fusion-powered reality,” Kerry said. “And at the same time, yes, significant scientific and engineering challenges exist. Careful thought and thoughtful policy is going to be critical to navigate this.”

Image (from left to right): Laban Coblentz (ITER Organization), Rafael Mariano Grossi (Director General of the IAEA), and Christofer M. Mowry (Chairman of the Fusion Industry Association and CEO of Type One Energy) discuss fusion energy development at COP28