DOE's Fusion Program: FY 2000 Appropriation and Recommendations
After some difficult years on Capitol Hill, the Department of Energy's fusion science program is on the rebound. There are few budgets covered by FYI that received the magnitude of the increase which the fusion program was given last year. The FY 2000 fusion budget is up 12.3% to $250.0 million. This amount is significantly more than what the administration had requested, which was a flat-line budget of $222.6 million.
In deciding on the fusion appropriation, Congress reviewed the two reports cited above. How does this new FY 2000 budget compare to what these reports recommended?
The first report referenced was by the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board, and was entitled "Realizing the Promise of Fusion Energy, Final Report of the Task Force on Fusion Energy" (http://www.hr.doe.gov/seab/). Richard A. Meserve was chairman of the task force, which issued its report in August. Among the task force's major findings were: "it is the Task Force's view that the threshold scientific question - namely, whether a fusion system producing sufficient net energy gain to be attractive as a commercial power source can be sustained and controlled - can and will be solved." Also, "In light of the promise of fusion and the risks arising from increasing worldwide energy demand and from eventually declining fossil energy supply, it is our view that we should pursue fusion energy aggressively."
Regarding funding, the task force concluded: "Indeed, in light of the promise of fusion, the Task Force concludes that the funding is now subcritical. The fusion community has estimated that overall funding for fusion energy on the order of $300 million per year will support significant enhancements of the program and will allow program balance to be maintained."
The SEAB Task Force made an important recommendation that, while presented in terms of the fusion program, applies to all research programs: "In order to participate in a burning-plasma experiment while preserving the breadth of the restructured program, the Department and the community should engage the Congress at an early stage. In light of the fact that our political system generally does not accommodate firm long-term budgetary commitments, the development both of understanding of a significant new project and of solid support for it throughout the political system is essential."
Another report was issued in September, entitled "Report of the FESAC Panel on Priorities and Balance" (http://wwwofe.er.doe.gov/More_HTML/FESAC_Charges_Reports.html) This Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee's panel was chaired by Charles Baker. This report stated, "In order to position the U.S. to execute the combined MFE/IFE [magnetic fusion energy/inertial fusion energy] research program within the timeframes set by the worldwide MFE program and DOE's Defense Program (DP)-funded inertial confinement program, the Panel strongly endorses a funding level of $300 million for the fusion energy sciences program." The panel concluded, "At an annual funding level of $260M, it will not be possible to have a combined MFE/IFE program consistent with the timeframes noted above, but it will be possible to augment modestly the four principal MFE thrust areas described in this report and develop at least one IFE driver (heavy-ions) for an integrated research experiment (IRE) and associated chamber technology." The report notes that FY 1995 fusion funding was $360 million.
In concluding the report, the FESAC panel found that a funding level of $300 million "is highly recommended by the panel, and would result in a strong, national program in MFE and IFE, with a focus on innovation, and it includes the resources needed to address the energy goal in a timely manner."
The Congress responded to these reports recommending $300 million with the 12.3% increase to $250 million. The next step in this process is the Clinton Administration's FY 2001 budget request for fusion. That request is now being prepared.
Richard M. Jones
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics