Executive Intelligence Review


Congress Moves To Restore Funding and Research on Fusion Energy Reactor Concepts

Sept. 19, 2018 (EIRNS)—When the cuts were made in magnetic fusion funding, starting in the 1980s, the program was put under the Office of Science, in the Department of Energy. Studies that had been done the previous decade on how to proceed to the next-step Engineering Test Reactor, as mandated in the 1980 McCormack Fusion Energy Engineering Act, were put on the shelf. Fusion became a purely “science” program, with the word “energy” taken out of its vocabulary, along with the disappearance of research in materials, superconducting magnets, and the other new technologies that a fusion power plant would need. This may now change.

The appropriations bill that has just passed the Congress for Fiscal Year 2019 includes significant increases for fusion. The total is $564 million, compared to $532 million for FY18, with increases in both the domestic programs and contributions to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER.

Most importantly, the bill directs the Department of Energy to “review establishing a reactor concepts research, development and deployment activity.” It requires that there be a briefing for the Committees on recommendations no later than 180 days from enactment of the bill. This should “include a technical plan ... and funding profile for future fiscal years.”

If the plan the fusion community develops is approved by the Congress, the U.S. scientists will join their colleagues in Europe, Japan, China, and South Korea, who are already developing their plans for the next step in fusion energy research.