A History of Fusion

Nearly a century of fusion energy progress.

Illustration related to the history of fusion
Illustration by Ana Kova for U.S. Fusion Outreach

Progress in fusion energy is nearing one century. In all that time, we achieved remarkable accomplishments, yet many more are to come. 

As the United States and the world accelerate toward fusion energy power plants, take a look at how we got here.

The 1920s–1970s

Arthur Eddington, a British astrophysicist, first published the theory that stars produce energy from the fusion of hydrogen to helium in 1926. A revolutionary idea, scientists worldwide soon rushed to confirm and advance our understanding of fusion energy.

In the 1950s, governments began declassifying fusion energy research in the name of peace. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) took charge of increasing global collaboration in 1958, encouraging all types of devices to be revealed, such as the now popular tokamak. International collaboration was sparked when President Carter and Prime Minister Fukuda signed a treaty on U.S.-Japan fusion research in 1978.

The United States hit its golden age of fusion in the 1970s, garnering broad governmental support and planning for future power plants.

The 1980s–2010s

Tough fiscal years beginning in the 1980s saw The United States scale back its fusion energy ambitions to focus on fusion science. This scientific approach is how the government primarily supports fusion today.

Meanwhile, in 1985, The United States and The Soviet Union made a historic agreement to put aside their rivalry and work together to make fusion energy a reality. They understood no one country could do it alone.

Today, that agreement manifests as ITER in southern France, where 35 countries work together to make fusion energy a reality.

The 2020s & Beyond

The global consensus that we need fusion energy has never been more substantial. Clean, reliable energy is a high priority. The fusion industry is springing up, technology is advancing, and ITER will soon be ready to go.

China and The United Kingdom are current hotspots for fusion dedication. While the United States invests in novel public-private partnerships to spur national industry, among other strategies, we need more support to accelerate the fusion timeline.