Does fusion involve radioactive waste?

A fusion power plant produces radioactive waste because the high-energy neutrons produced by fusion activate the walls of the plasma vessel. The intensity and duration of this activation depend on the material impinged on by the neutrons.

The walls of the plasma vessel must be temporarily stored after the end of operation. This waste quantity is initially larger than that from nuclear fission plants. However, these are mainly low- and medium-level radioactive materials that pose a much lower risk to the environment and human health than high-level radioactive materials from fission power plants. The radiation from this fusion waste decreases significantly faster than that of high-level radioactive waste from fission power plants. Scientists are researching materials for wall components that allow for further reduction of activation. They are also developing recycling technologies through which all activated components of a fusion reactor can be released after some time or reused in new power plants. Currently, it can be assumed that recycling by remote handling could be started as early as one year after switching off a fusion power plant. Unlike nuclear fission reactors, the long term storage should not be required.

Note: We are constantly revising our website. Therefore, this text may change over time – e.g. because newer scientific work requires it.

Scientific publications on the topic:

Sehila M. Gonzalez de Vicente et al: Overview on the management of radioactive waste from fusion facilities: ITER, demonstration machines and power plants. 2022, Nucl. Fusion 62, 085001

G. Federici et al: European DEMO design strategy and consequences for materials. 2017 Nucl. Fusion 57 09200

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