Executive Intelligence Review


No More Studies! Accelerate Fusion Power Development!

Nov. 6 (EIRNS)—Steve Dean reports that the Department of Energy will embark on (yet another) study for a “long-range plan” for fusion power. Scientists are to spend the next two years discussing research directions for fusion, which, in fact, they have been doing for decades, most recently in a series of workshops over the last several years.

That recent series of workshops laid the basis for the 2015 DOE report, “Fusion Energy Sciences: A Ten-Year Perspective (2015-2025).” The report proposed three possible funding scenarios for fusion, the highest being the “Modest Growth Scenario,” which is 2% above inflation. The experts explain that

“even under this modest growth budget scenario, it is unlikely that the construction of a new fusion confinement device on the scale of any of the current major facilities could be supported....”

A critical materials science program is put off to the mid-2020s in the report. Obama did not fund the fusion program even at this paltry “Modest Growth” level. That led to the closure of key facilities, such as MIT’s Alcator experiment. Wasting time now on yet another study will come to no different conclusion.

Steve Dean’s 1976 plan for fusion projected that, at a funding level below the $300 million per year range (about $1 billion in today’s dollars), the timeline was that we would reach fusion “never.” Four years later, Rep. Mike McCormack’s Magnetic Fusion Energy Engineering Act of 1980, drafted with input from the Fusion Energy Foundation, laid out the necessary steps to build an engineering test reactor by 1990 and a commercial demonstration plant by 2000. Although passed into law, it was never funded.

The announcement of this new study by Acting Associate Director for Fusion Energy Sciences at the DOE, Jim Van Dam, holds that any progress in fusion made in the last two years was thanks to Congressional support. The Administration’s (i.e., Office of Management and Budget) request for fusion for FY2019, was a 36% cut from FY2018, at $340 million. Congress appropriated an increase, to $456 million, which will allow the start of construction of a materials experimental testing facility.

There is no reason for any more studies. The administration must get onboard an acceleration of the fusion program, to bring forward as quickly as possible, the next platform for energy production, and the plasma economy.