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."