How Much Will A Fusion Power Plant Cost?
May 7, 2021
There's been some positive news reports this year on the progress of development of a fusion power plant. If such a plant can be built, it would prove to be a game changer for our carbon-free future.
I remember from a class I took at UVa that fusion power plants will be expensive. I searched the internet for a report on the projected cost of such plants and found a 2017 report prepared in part by Bechtel. The firm has such an outstanding reputation I put some faith in the findings of the report.
From the executive summary of the report:
The key conclusions of the study are:
1. The calculated cost was relatively insensitive to changes within the range of expected uncertainty in FPC materials costs or radial build costs (consisting of the first wall, shield, and blanket).
2. Current uncertainties in the primary power system for the fusion core could result in significant impacts on the total estimated cost, with the primary power system potentially approaching 20% of the total direct capital cost.
3. Using a point design for 150 MW of electric power, the total estimated overnight cost encompassing the four pre-conceptual fusion power plants (FPP) ranges from approximately $0.7 billion to $1.93 billion (in 2016 U.S. dollars). The average estimated overnight cost is approximately $1.32 billion. The cost estimate and the pre-conceptual designs of the FPCs and associated systems are not adequately developed and detailed at this time to be used for scaling up the estimated overnight costs for potential larger capacity plants (e.g., in the 1 GWe range).
4. Cost categories had varying degrees of uncertainty, with the principal areas of uncertainty being in the FPC, heat exchanger, and tritium handling system. All principal uncertainties can be reduced by further work.
The roughly $10,000 per MW capital cost puts it in line with the most recent fission nuclear power plants being constructed in Georgia. (Note that scaling the plants up from a 150 MWe may result in the cost per MW coming down.). What does that mean? It means that these plants will indeed be expensive to build. I would suspect that the federal government will need to be involved in the financing of the first few of these plants as the size of capital requirement and the risk associated with a "first of its kind" technology will scare away a number of sources of debt.
It is exciting that fusion may be within our reach in the next several decades. It has been a long haul to get to this point.
Here is a link to the entire Bechtel report: