The use of high temperature superconductor (HTS) materials in future fusion machines could increase the efficiency drastically, but strong boundary conditions exist. To outline the prospects, challenges and problems, first the benefit of using HTS materials is estimated considering the saving in cryogenic power. Next, it is demonstrated that industrial available HTS materials can be used for fusion today. For this purpose, we give a short summary of results that have been obtained from an ITER conform 70 kA HTS current lead that was designed, built and tested by the Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe and the CRPP Villigen in the frame of the European Fusion Technology Programme and in cooperation with industry. This current lead consists of an HTS part that covered the temperature range from 4.5 to 70 K and a conventional part, making the connection to room temperature. Because the HTS part had no ohmic losses and poor thermal conduction, the refrigerator power necessary for cooling the current lead was reduced drastically. The saving factor could be calculated to be 5.4 at zero current and 3.7 at 68 kA. The current lead could even be operated at 80 kA and with respect to safety criteria of ITER, a complete loss of He flow was simulated showing that the HTS current lead could hold a current of 68 kA for 6 min without active cooling. These results demonstrate that today existing HTS materials can be used in ITER for current leads or bus bar systems. For fusion machines beyond ITER, the development of an HTS fusion conductor would be the key to operate the complete magnet system at higher temperatures. The option of developing fusion conductors based on Bi-2223 and YBCO are briefly discussed. For a success of such conductors, the AC loss optimisation is crucial. (c) 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.