Can Fusion Generate Electricity?

Fusion, the process that powers the sun and other stars, has the potential to generate electricity without carbon emissions, long-lasting nuclear waste, or risk of meltdowns. In a fusion reaction, two light atomic nuclei combine to form a heavier nucleus, releasing energy in the process. The most commonly studied fusion reaction involves deuterium and tritium, which combine to form helium and a neutron, releasing a significant amount of energy.

The Promise of Fusion Power

The promise of fusion power is huge, as a tiny amount of lithium can produce a large amount of electricity without producing CO2 or air pollution. The energy released in a fusion reaction is much greater than the energy released in a fission reaction, making fusion a potentially more efficient and environmentally friendly source of electricity.

Fusion Reaction Principles

The fusion reaction is governed by the following principles:

  1. Conservation of Energy: The total energy of the system before and after the fusion reaction must be conserved.
  2. Conservation of Momentum: The total momentum of the system before and after the fusion reaction must be conserved.
  3. Conservation of Charge: The total charge of the system before and after the fusion reaction must be conserved.
  4. Conservation of Baryon Number: The total number of baryons (protons and neutrons) in the system before and after the fusion reaction must be conserved.

These principles, along with the specific fusion reaction being studied, can be used to calculate the energy released and the products of the fusion reaction.

Fusion Reaction Equations

The most commonly studied fusion reaction involves the combination of deuterium (D) and tritium (T) to form helium (He) and a neutron (n):

D + T → He + n + 17.6 MeV

In this reaction, the masses of the reactants (D and T) are slightly greater than the masses of the products (He and n), and the difference in mass is converted into a significant amount of energy (17.6 MeV) according to Einstein’s famous equation, E = mc^2.

Challenges in Achieving Fusion Power

can fusion generate electricity

However, to make fusion work reliably and economically on the scale of a power station, several challenges must be overcome. These challenges include:

  1. Development of Materials: The development of materials that can withstand the extreme conditions of fusion, such as high temperatures, high pressures, and intense radiation, for decades of operation.
  2. Energy Extraction: The extraction of energy from fusion reactions to provide an economical source of electric power.
  3. Alignment of Efforts: The alignment of public and private sector efforts in fusion energy research and development to accelerate progress and overcome technical and economic hurdles.

Materials Challenges

The materials used in fusion reactors must be able to withstand the extreme conditions of the fusion environment, including:

  • Temperatures of hundreds of millions of degrees Celsius
  • Intense neutron and radiation fluxes
  • High mechanical stresses and thermal cycling

Researchers are exploring advanced materials, such as tungsten, beryllium, and silicon carbide, to address these challenges. These materials must be able to maintain their structural integrity, thermal conductivity, and resistance to corrosion and erosion over the lifetime of the reactor.

Energy Extraction Challenges

The simplest way to convert fusion energy into electricity is through heat transfer in a turbine, similar to how fission power is generated. However, this approach can be inefficient, as a significant amount of energy is lost in the heat transfer process.

Some startups, such as Helion Energy, are exploring more creative ways to generate electricity directly from fusion reactions. Helion’s approach uses a pulse system that converts the magnetic field generated in the fusion reaction to pass over magnets and generate electricity directly, potentially with higher efficiency than traditional methods.

Alignment of Efforts

The development of fusion power requires the alignment of public and private sector efforts in research and development. Governments and international organizations, such as the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project, have invested heavily in fusion research, but the path to commercialization remains challenging.

Private companies, such as Tokamak Energy, Commonwealth Fusion Systems, and General Fusion, are also working on developing fusion technologies and exploring new approaches to overcome the technical and economic hurdles. The alignment of these public and private efforts is crucial to accelerating the progress towards viable fusion power.

Fusion Power Plant Models and Cost Considerations

Several models of fusion power plants have been studied, with the cost of fusion-generated electricity decreasing with the electrical power output approximately as P^-0.4, where P is the electrical power output. This relationship suggests that larger fusion power plants may be more economically viable than smaller ones.

The power plant study shows that the cost of fusion-generated electricity is dominated by the capital cost, which depends very sensitively on the cost of borrowing money or discount rate and the availability of the plant. Other factors, such as the cost of fuel (deuterium and tritium) and the cost of maintenance and operation, are relatively small compared to the capital cost.


While fusion has the potential to generate electricity without many of the drawbacks of traditional power sources, significant challenges must be overcome to make it a reliable and economical source of energy. Research and development efforts are ongoing to address these challenges and bring fusion power closer to reality. By focusing on the development of advanced materials, the optimization of energy extraction methods, and the alignment of public and private sector efforts, we can unlock the transformative potential of fusion power and revolutionize the way we generate electricity.


  1. The path to fusion power – PMC – NCBI,
  2. Nuclear Fusion Power,
  3. How would fusion reactors convert fusion energy into electricity?,
  4. Fusion Energy: Potentially Transformative Technology Still Faces Challenges,