Japan venture to build country's first nuclear fusion power plant

© Kyodo News

A western Japan venture plans to build the first experimental plant in the country to generate power through nuclear fusion, the company said, as the technology is drawing attention as a new way of producing energy without emitting carbon dioxide.

Kyoto Fusioneering Ltd., a startup based in Uji, Kyoto Prefecture, is aiming to start operation of the plant in the next five years, having already procured some of the funds and started designing the plant, CEO Taka Nagao told Kyodo News in a recent interview.

The experimental plant will be equipped with a heat exchanger and turbine in addition to a reactor that generates thermal energy to produce a small amount of electricity, with the generation capacity expected to be several dozen kilowatts, the company said.

Though experimental reactors to prove the feasibility of nuclear fusion reaction exist in Japan and abroad, "a plant that actually generates power is rare even on a global basis," Nagao said.

The venture partly funded by an investment firm set up by Kyoto University, was launched in 2019 led by Nagao and Satoshi Konishi, a professor at the Institute of Advanced Energy of Kyoto University.

The company develops equipment for nuclear fusion reactors, including a key device that effectively collects heat with a temperature of over 100 million C generated in a reactor. It plans to use the plant to collect data for its development of devices.

With an eye to invest several billions of yen in the project, the venture has already raised 1.3 billion yen from investment funds including one linked to state-backed fund Japan Investment Corp. It also intends to borrow funds from megabanks such as MUFG Bank.

The venture will hold talks with the central government and municipalities in the future to work out details including locations to build the plant, it said.

Fusion power generation converts the energy created by merging nuclei to electricity. Unlike nuclear power generation that involves fission chain reactions, fusion process is considered safer and does not produce highly active nuclear waste like nuclear power plants, experts say.

Fusion energy recently came under global spotlight as U.S. nuclear fusion startup Commonwealth Fusion Systems secured investments last year from Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates as well as Google.

The Japanese government also promotes the research and development of fusion energy as a means to secure clean energy to cope with global warming. It plans to set up an expert panel in the near future to enhance support for the move.