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Non-nuclear energy

Socio-economic aspects

Fission and radiation protection


Investigations into socioeconomic aspects form one of the priority areas for Euratom. It focuses on the evaluation of economic costs and social acceptability of fusion energy, complementing further studies on safety and environmental aspects and building on the studies already completed in the previous Framework Programmes. Dissemination of results and the provision of information to the public is also prioritised.

The programme on Socio Economic Research on Fusion (SERF studies) prepared integrated final reports for all major areas of investigation. These include:

  • Long-term scenarios including fusion as a source of electricity – these studies have found that fusion – as with other alternative energy sources – will compete with conventional baseload power options even if the need to stabilise the CO2 content in the atmosphere to control climate change has been properly recognised. Therefore, fusion could be introduced during the second half of this century and reach a significant share of electricity generation by 2100.
  • The production costs analysis suggests that plant availability and fusion power output relative to the magnet costs are the key parameters driving costs during operation. Studies have also been performed on fusion cost ‘learning curve’ effects. Between a prototype and a ‘10th of a kind’ commercial power station, the main difference would be the capital cost of the fusion power core. Between a prototype and DEMO, the main difference would lie in the reliability of operation.
  • The external (i.e. environmental acid rain and CO2 production) costs of the fusion power cycle are comparable with the best-performing renewable technologies such as solar and wind.

Fusion can meet 21st century energy needs

For example, a study of external costs and benefits for a hypothetical fusion power plant was carried out choosing a specific site in Germany. Site selection, land use and population in surrounding areas have been considered in detail. Using data generated by SEAFP safety studies  and the design studies for ITER, established methodologies have been used to evaluate potential emissions, fuel supply and handling, possible accidents and decommissioning.

Public opinion on fusion has been studied in both Spain and Germany. The response of a local population to the prospect of a large fusion installation has also been investigated. Results show that there is a strong association between fusion and fission technology in the public’s mind and the role of independent experts is crucial to promote any new technological enterprise in this area. Efforts are being made to emphasise the difference between the two technologies.

Further information on SERF

The European Power Plant Conceptual Study (PPCS) is a study of conceptual designs for commercial fusion power plants. It has used four power plant models which span a range from relatively near-term designs, based on limited technology advance and plasma physics extrapolations, to advanced plant concepts using advanced materials.

All four models differ substantially in plasma physics, net electrical output, and diverter technology from the models that formed the basis of earlier European safety and environmental studies. They also differ substantially from one another in their size, fusion power and materials compositions, and these differences lead to differences in economic performance.

The results presented suggest that economically acceptable first-generation power plants with major safety and environmental advantages can be accessed by a ‘fast-track’ route of fusion development, through ITER without major materials advances, and that there is potential for a more advanced second generation of power plants.

The four PPCS models (A, B, C and D) are based on a range of extrapolations in plasma physics compared with the conservative design basis of ITER, beginning with very limited extrapolation and ending (in Model D) with substantial advances in plasma behaviour. Their technology begins with the use (in Models A and B) of near-term blankets based on the use of existing low-activation martensitic steel and the water-cooled lithium-lead and helium-cooled pebble bed concepts, together with associated water-cooled and helium-cooled diverters. Models C and D are based on successively more advanced concepts in technology.

The systems analyses integrated the plasma physics and technology constraints, together with other considerations such as unit size and availability, to produce parameter sets with optimal economic characteristics. These characteristics are dominated, for Models A and B, by the effects of: low power density; current-drive requirements; diverter heat load capability; near-term materials. For Models C and D, reduced current drive power requirements and advanced materials are the key factors.