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FYI Number 136: December 13, 2002

Fusion Advisory Committee Endorses 35 Year Plan

The Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee has given its "unanimous, unqualified endorsement" to a new report setting forth a plan to put fusion-generated electricity on the U.S. power grid in about 35 years. Meeting in a Washington, D.C. suburb in late November, the committee approved this development path and heard from a senior Department of Energy official. Earlier in the month, OSTP Director John Marburger told a National Research Council committee that "the promise of fusion energy is too great to ignore."

The advisory committee meeting began with remarks by Anne Davies, DOE Associate Director for Fusion Energy Sciences. She said the FY 2003 funding impasse and the resulting continuing resolution necessitated DOE providing funding for only a week at a time, resulting in no new starts in this fiscal year that is now 2 1/2 months old. "I cannot predict," how the funding level will finally be resolved, she said. More positively, she lauded the committee for the consensus it had reached on a future burning plasma experiment, saying it was more "than I could ever have hoped." Davies described a DOE management review of ITER which concluded that "the ITER Team has prepared a complete cost estimate that is based on sound management and engineering principles, and is credible as a basis for establishing relative contributions by the Parties to the construction of ITER" (see full report at http://fire.pppl.gov/doe_iter_lehman.pdf.) Davies described this project as a "hot topic" for DOE and the Administration. She then outlined the schedule for the release of a DOE Office of Science Strategic Plan that will contain a section on fusion in the energy part of the report. This report will be completed by March of 2003.

The meeting then turned to the preliminary report of the Fusion Development Path Panel. The panel's chair, Rob Goldston, PPPL, described the U.S. demonstration power plant (DEMO) that would operate in about 35 years. This plant must be "safe and environmentally attractive," "extrapolate to competitive cost for electricity," use the same technology that would be employed in future commercial plants, and achieve availability of around 50%. He reiterated that both Magnetic Fusion Energy and Inertial Fusion Energy research should be supported. "The plan recognizes that difficult scientific and technological questions remain for fusion development," Goldston told the committee. While costing will be finished by or before March 2003, "it is clear that substantial additional resources will be needed to implement this plan," the committee was told. Goldston's final exhibit concluded with a statement from the executive summary of the report that "A commitment now to expend the additional resources to develop fusion energy within 35 years is timely and appropriate." The full report, whose main section is 17 pages long, can be accessed at http://fire.pppl.gov/fesac_devpath_prelim_rpt.pdf

The ball now rests in the Bush Administration's court, both as it looks ahead to the FY 2004 budget request and participation in ITER. Marburger addressed the later in remarks (http://fire.pppl.gov/nrc_bpac_111802_marburger.pdf) before the advisory committee met, and before the release of the DOE assessment. He explained: "I believe the US fusion community needs access to a burning plasma experiment, and the time frame for the decision to enter into ITER is being driven by ongoing negotiations. The ITER parties are on schedule to reach a consensus on a preferred site, cost sharing arrangements and a Director General in or around April 2003. Should the Administration decide to enter ITER, it would be desirable to have the US enter sooner rather than later."

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
(301) 209-3095

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