Powering the future: Fusion advisory committee sets priorities

December 9, 2020, 3:00PMNuclear News

The Fusion Energy Science Advisory Committee (FESAC), which is responsible for advising the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, on December 4 published the first public draft of Powering the Future: Fusion and Plasmas, a 10-year vision for fusion energy and plasma science. FESAC was charged with developing a long-range plan in November 2018.

The scope: The report, which is meant to catch the eye of leaders in the DOE, Congress, and the White House, details the needs of the fusion and plasma program identified by a FESAC subcommittee—the DOE Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee for Long Range Planning—with the help of the fusion research community. The yearlong Phase 1 of the Community Planning Process, organized under the auspices of the American Physical Society’s Division of Plasma Physics, gathered input and yielded a strategic plan that is reflected in the FESAC’s draft report.

Recommendations: The report contains a series of recommendations, including:

  • a fusion pilot plant design effort,
  • a pivot toward research and development of fusion materials and other needed technology,
  • advancement of a successful tokamak plasma confinement concept,
  • development of innovative ideas for commercially attractive fusion systems,
  • a sequence of mid-to-large-scale facilities for frontier plasma science,
  • a plasma-based technology research program,
  • and foundational plasma science research.

Funding priorities: The draft report doesn’t get specific about recommended spending. Instead, three budget scenarios are described, and priorities are identified. Two budget scenarios are “constrained”—one at a “constant” level of effort, including baseline annual inflation of 2.2 percent, and another with “modest growth,” 2 percent above the baseline for 4.2 percent annual growth. The third scenario is “unconstrained, but prioritized.” As prescribed in the charge to FESAC, the budget scenarios use the fiscal year 2019 budget as a starting pointand focus specifically on the non-ITER portion of that budget.

“Importantly, the implementation of activities described in the constrained scenarios allows for continued growth should more favorable budgets develop in the future,” the report states. “Nonetheless, the constrained scenarios do not provide sufficient resources to confidently prepare for [fusion pilot plant] construction by the 2040s, and large projects in the plasma science and technology area are unfunded. This has consequences, as it will cost the United States its position as a global leader in fusion energy and plasma science and compromise future developments with important societal implications.”

Every scenario is guided by a decision to direct resources to the activities identified by the fusion community as the most essential and urgent to enable the construction of a fusion pilot plant, according to the draft report. Based on “difficult choices,” the priorities include a near-term focus on fusion materials and technology to support the critical path to a fusion pilot plant, independent of the eventual choice of plasma core.

Collaboration: Public-private partnerships, including milestone-based cost-share programs, and an expansion of the Innovation Network for Fusion Energy (INFUSE) program are recommended to meet some program goals. The FESAC subcommittee also recommends continuing and building on existing partnerships with the National Science Foundation, the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy, and the National Nuclear Security Administration, and exploring opportunities to form new partnerships.

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