The Japanese government's nuclear fusion strategy committee, chaired by Hiromichi Shinohara, Executive Advisor to NTT, has compiled an innovation strategy aimed at accelerating the start of electricity generation using a nuclear fusion prototype reactor. It plans to establish a base at the National Institutes for Quantum Science and Technology (QST) and launch a nuclear fusion industry council involving government, academia, and industry (provisional name) not only to accelerate research and development but also to promote industry development, among other concrete measures. This marks the first time the government has formulated a nuclear fusion strategy. The strategy will be officially decided by April and incorporated into budget requests for fiscal 2024.
As countries work towards achieving carbon neutrality, the global energy situation is changing significantly due to factors such as surging energy prices following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Nuclear fusion's importance is growing as a way to ensure energy security while transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy. It is a game‐changing technology that shifts the energy initiative from resource‐producing countries to those with technology.
The United States of America and the United Kingdom have already formulated national strategies to commercialize nuclear fusion and are starting to secure domestic technologies. On the other hand, Japan is responsible for many ITER devices (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) and has technological superiority and reliability. However, if the development of related industries does not keep pace, it may find itself defeated technologically and in the marketplace.
With a 10‐year outlook, the strategy envisions commercializing fusion energy by leveraging Japan's technological advantage to capture a winning lead in the market. It outlines three action plans for industry development, technology development, and promotion.
For industry development, the Cabinet Office will create technology and industry maps to enhance predictability for businesses, visualizing industry needs and the impacts promising technologies will have on other fields. In addition, the Fusion Energy Forum of Japan (a voluntary association) will be restructured and upgraded to what is being tentatively called the Nuclear Fusion Industry Council (a general incorporated association) by fiscal 2023, urging forward not only existing related companies but also new entrants.
Furthermore, the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) system will be strengthened from fiscal 2023 (MEXT portion) to bridge the gap between technology seeds held by private companies and industry needs. For safety regulations, Japan will participate in working groups on international nuclear fusion regulations and summarize discussions during fiscal 2023.
Research and development efforts will be focused on supporting innovative emerging technologies, such as miniaturization and advanced technologies that could become game‐changers. Progress on ITER and Broad Approach (BA) initiatives will be continued steadily, with further research and development for future prototype reactors. At the same time, wide‐ranging academic research will be promoted to address unresolved issues in nuclear fusion technology. Moreover, an action plan for prototype reactor development will be promoted, considering the integration of new technologies from private companies including startups.
As for the promotion system, the Cabinet Office will serve as the government's command center, with the fusion technology innovation base established at QST working on research and development towards prototype reactor development, involving both academia and private companies. The base will also support new entrants. Regarding human resource development, a systematic approach will be taken across government, academia, and industry to train professionals involved in nuclear fusion and clarify future career paths. Efforts to increase human resources will also be made to strengthen human resource development at domestic universities and attract talented individuals from other fields and countries.
Although the action plan includes various elements, a certain level of budget is required for execution. The current related budget for ITER and BA is approximately 25 billion yen. However, Sanae Takaichi, Minister of State for Science and Technology Policy, said, "We want to secure the necessary budget in collaboration with related ministries and agencies."
This article has been translated by JST with permission from The Science News Ltd. (https://sci-news.co.jp/). Unauthorized reproduction of the article and photographs is prohibited.