Japan, U.S. to Link Up on Nuclear Fusion Development; Japan Possesses Key Manufacturing Parts Essential for Process

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Japanese and U.S. governments are nearing an agreement to conclude a “strategic partnership” on technologies for generating power from nuclear fusion, which has been touted as a next-generation energy source, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

The agreement could be timed to coincide with the summit meeting between Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington on Wednesday, according to multiple Japanese and U.S. government sources.

International competition to develop technologies that would enable the practical application of nuclear fusion energy, which does not emit carbon dioxide and is said to be safer than nuclear power generation, has intensified in recent years. The agreement will illustrate the commitment of Japan and the United States to push ahead with such efforts by both the private and public sectors.

Nuclear fusion is a reaction that occurs in the core of the sun. The fusion of atomic nuclei generates immense amounts of energy and is sometimes called “the ultimate energy source.” One gram of nuclear fusion fuel is said to produce energy equivalent to that generated from eight tons of oil. Deuterium and tritium, abundant on Earth, can be used as fuel for nuclear fusion.

However, the technological hurdles to harnessing nuclear fusion power remain high and this energy source has not yet been used for power generation. The multinational ITER project’s experimental reactor under construction in France is scheduled to start operation in 2025 or after. Japan, the United States, the European Union, China and Russia are among the participants in this project designed to establish basic nuclear fusion technologies. Nations will use the knowledge gained through ITER in their efforts to commercialize nuclear fusion.

In parallel with the establishment of ITER, the governments of the United States and elsewhere intend to push ahead with the development of nuclear fusion technologies, which has turbo-charged investment in startup companies in this sector. One company has even claimed it will begin generating power through nuclear fusion in 2028. According to the U.S. Fusion Industry Association, about $6.2 billion (about ¥940 billion) has been invested in fusion companies worldwide as of 2023, and this figure jumped significantly since the previous year.

Japan, which relies heavily on fossil fuel imports, has high hopes that nuclear fusion could secure a stable energy source. Japanese companies possess excellent technologies for manufacturing components such as superconducting coils essential for nuclear fusion.

At a time when global competition for nuclear fusion development is heating up, Tokyo and Washington will craft a strategic cooperative relationship after deciding that deepening their industry-academia-government collaboration would have a major positive impact on developing key technologies. Both nations will allow mutual use of their development facilities, promote personnel exchanges and work together to build supply chains, according to the sources.

The United States and Britain agreed to form a similar partnership on fusion energy in November.