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Fusion energy gets a big boost from U.S. regulator -- paving the way for pilots

A digital rendering of a nuclear reactor designed by FootPrint Coalition Ventures portfolio company, Commonwealth Fusion Systems.
A rendering of Commonwealth Fusion Systems small fusion arc reactor. Image Credit: Commonwealth Fusion Systems

Last week, the U.S. regulator responsible for overseeing the nation's nuclear industry took a big step towards removing any barriers that could block the development of fusion energy systems in the country.

Essentially, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it would look at using the same lens that it applies to companies using byproduct materials from the nuclear business.

That means that the fusion energy industry will have fewer hurdles to clear as they look to develop their initial pilot reactors and commercial-scale power plants.

“Dozens of companies are developing pilot-scale commercial fusion designs, and while the technology’s precise future in the United States is uncertain, the agency should provide as much regulatory certainty as possible given what we know today,” said NRC Chair Christopher T. Hanson, in a statement. “Licensing near-term fusion energy systems under a byproduct material framework will protect public health and safety with a technology-neutral, scalable regulatory approach.”

The next step will be to begin final rule making under the new guidelines set by the NRC.

For companies like General Fusion, Type One Energy, TAE Systems, and the FootPrint Coalition Ventures-backed Commonwealth Fusion Systems, the new rule making is a huge win that clears the way for development and use of their new, emissions free energy systems.

Fusion systems would generate electricity from the energy released when hydrogen atoms are combined to form helium; current nuclear reactors use the splitting, or fission, of uranium atoms, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission statement. The staff had earlier determined fusion systems fall outside of the requirements to be regulated as nuclear reactors, the NRC said.


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