The Open UniversitySkip to content

Tritium supply and use: a key issue for the development of nuclear fusion energy

Pearson, Richard J.; Antoniazzi, Armando B. and Nuttall, William J. (2018). Tritium supply and use: a key issue for the development of nuclear fusion energy. Fusion Engineering and Design, 136 pp. 1140–1148.

Full text available as:
PDF (Version of Record) - Requires a PDF viewer such as GSview, Xpdf or Adobe Acrobat Reader
Download (560kB) | Preview
DOI (Digital Object Identifier) Link:
Google Scholar: Look up in Google Scholar


Full power operation of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) has been delayed and will now begin in 2035. Delays to the ITER schedule may affect the availability of tritium for subsequent fusion devices, as the global CANDU-type fission reactor fleet begins to phase out over the coming decades. This study provides an up to date account of future tritium availability by incorporating recent uncertainties over the life extension of the global CANDU fleet, as well as considering the potential impact of tritium demand by other fusion efforts. Despite the delays, our projections suggest that CANDU tritium remains sufficient to support the full operation of ITER. However, whether there is tritium available for a DEMO reactor following ITER is largely uncertain, and is subject to numerous uncontrollable externalities. Further tritium demand may come from any number of private sector “compact fusion” start-ups which have emerged in recent years, all of which aim to accelerate the development of fusion energy. If the associated technical challenges can be overcome, compact fusion programmes have the opportunity to use tritium over the next two decades whilst it is readily available, and before full power DT operation on ITER starts in 2035. Assuming a similar level of performance is achievable, a compact fusion development programme, using smaller reactors operating at lower fusion power, would require smaller quantities of tritium than the ITER programme, leaving sufficient tritium available for multiple concepts to be developed concurrently. The development of concurrent fusion concepts increases the chances of success, as it spreads the risk of failure. Additionally, if full tritium breeding capability is not expected to be demonstrated in DEMO until after 2050, an opportunity exists for compact fusion programmes to incorporate tritium breeding technology in nearer-term devices. DD start-up, which avoids the need for external tritium for reactor start-up, is dependent upon full tritium breeding capability, and may be essential for large-scale commercial roll-out of fusion energy. As such, from the standpoint of availability and use of external tritium, a compact route to fusion energy may be more advantageous, as it avoids longer-term complications and uncertainties in the future supply of tritium.

Item Type: Journal Item
Copyright Holders: 2018 The Authors
ISSN: 0920-3796
Project Funding Details:
Funded Project NameProject IDFunding Body
Nuclear DTC - Revised (XD13034MF)EP/L015900/1EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council)
Keywords: Tritium; CANDU; ITER; DEMO; Compact fusion; DD start-up
Academic Unit/School: Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) > Mathematics and Statistics
Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)
Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) > Engineering and Innovation
Item ID: 55293
Depositing User: ORO Import
Date Deposited: 04 Jun 2018 09:54
Last Modified: 02 May 2019 00:54
Share this page:


Altmetrics from Altmetric

Citations from Dimensions

Download history for this item

These details should be considered as only a guide to the number of downloads performed manually. Algorithmic methods have been applied in an attempt to remove automated downloads from the displayed statistics but no guarantee can be made as to the accuracy of the figures.

Actions (login may be required)

Policies | Disclaimer

© The Open University   contact the OU