The Congressional Appropriations Committees in both the House and Senate, which write the bills that will fund the government, have passed their proposed funding bills for fusion energy research in the Energy and Water Appropriations bills, cutting the fusion budget significantly from the President’s request of $1.01 billion.
In March, the President’s request to Congress proposed record spending for fusion energy research and development, asking $1.01 billion in funding for research and development through the Department of Energy’s Office of Fusion Energy Sciences. Importantly, $276 million of that funding was identified as supporting “fusion program acceleration” – growing new programs to invest in the science and engineering that will accelerate fusion energy towards commercial viability. The FIA supports this funding because this investment would finally begin the transition from a purely science mission to one that supports commercialization. Congress mandated “the development of a competitive fusion power industry in the U.S.” in 2020, but has yet to appropriate enough resources to support the transition.
The new programs proposed were in two areas. First: the budget would create four new fusion research and development centers focused on (1) Blanket/Fuel Cycle, (2) Advanced Simulations, (3) Structural/Plasma Facing Materials, and (4) Enabling Technologies and second, the budget would support an expansion of the Milestone-based public-private partnership, which will result in the design of fusion pilot plants of multiple technologies.
Unfortunately, the funding provided by Congress for the fusion budget is insufficient to meet the need. In the proposed Senate package, the Fusion Energy Sciences program would get $792 million, about $29 million more than this year’s $763 million in funding (3.7% growth; lower than inflation), but $218 million below the President’s request. In the House, the Fusion Energy Sciences program would get less, $778 million in funding (2% growth).
Because a divided Congress makes for a tight budget environment, it is not a surprise to see reduced funding. Unfortunately, the cuts in both of these bills are focused on the commercialization efforts. In the Senate, the milestone public private partnership program gets $25 million, a cut of 80%, while the House funds the program at $35 million, a cut 73%. Neither of the bills would fund the four thematic R&D centers, though the Department of Energy has sufficient authority and funding to implement these on their own.
As it stands, Congress is missing the opportunity. The FIA has identified that there is now over $6 billion of private funding into commercial fusion enterprises around the world, and over 80% of that funding has gone to U.S. companies. For the U.S. to capitalize on the opportunity this presents, it must bring resources to match the scale of the opportunity.
As governments around the world increase their support to fusion commercialization, competitiveness demands that private companies must go where the best partners are. If Congress does not supply resources at a scale is commensurate to the challenge, while countries like Germany, Japan, or the UK step forward, the American lead on innovative fusion could evaporate. Likewise, China’s investments into fusion are accelerating, in both public and private investment. A Chinese-led fusion industry would be very different challenge, given the current era of global strategic competition.
Congress will consider these bills as part of the full annual spending package in the fall. There is still time to rectify this missed opportunity and bring the fusion budget up to a level that will support commercialization.