ITER: Challenges and Delays in the World's Largest Fusion Energy Project

ITER: Challenges and Delays in the World's Largest Fusion Energy Project

Alejandro Rodriguez
2 min read

ITER: Challenges and Delays in the World's Largest Fusion Energy Project

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), the largest fusion energy project globally, is encountering substantial delays and cost overruns. Initially scheduled to commence testing in 2020 with an estimated cost of $5 billion, ITER is now anticipated to initiate full testing in 2039, marking a four-year delay from the prior estimate of 2035. The budget has escalated significantly, surpassing $22 billion, with additional costs expected to reach about €5 billion. Supply chain disruptions, worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic, have contributed to these setbacks. Pietro Barabaschi, ITER's director general, expressed doubts regarding the ability of private sector fusion projects to meet their ambitious timelines. He noted that even if fusion technology were proven today, commercial deployment by 2040 would be challenging due to unresolved technical issues. These delays raise doubts about whether fusion energy, celebrated as an inexhaustible clean energy source, will be accessible in time to substantially impact climate change and global energy needs.

Key Takeaways

  • ITER faces significant delays and cost overruns in its fusion project.
  • Full testing postponed to 2039, four years later than planned.
  • Budget has surged from $5 billion to over $22 billion.
  • Private companies may test fusion technology sooner than ITER.
  • Commercial deployment of fusion energy by 2040 deemed unlikely.


The delays and cost overruns in the ITER project strain international partnerships and investor confidence, influencing funding for alternative fusion initiatives. Supply chain disruptions and technical challenges underscore the complexity of fusion technology, delaying its potential to address climate change and energy demands. In the short term, this exacerbates financial burdens on participating countries and stakeholders. In the long term, it challenges the feasibility of fusion as a timely solution, potentially accelerating investments in other renewable energies.

Did You Know?

  • ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor):
    • Explanation: ITER is an international nuclear fusion research and engineering project aimed at creating a practical fusion reactor. It is currently the largest and most ambitious attempt to harness nuclear fusion, the process that powers the sun and stars, for peaceful purposes. The project involves multiple countries and is designed to demonstrate the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale and carbon-free source of energy.
  • Fusion Energy:
    • Explanation: Fusion energy is a form of nuclear energy where light atomic nuclei combine to form a heavier nucleus. This process releases a large amount of energy, which is the opposite of fission, where a heavy atomic nucleus splits into lighter ones. Fusion is considered a potentially limitless and clean source of energy because it produces no greenhouse gases and very little radioactive waste compared to fission.
  • Cost Overruns:
    • Explanation: Cost overruns refer to the situation where the actual cost of a project exceeds the initial budget estimates. In the context of large-scale engineering projects like ITER, cost overruns can be caused by various factors, including technical challenges, supply chain disruptions, and changes in project scope. These overruns can significantly impact the project's timeline and financial viability.

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