On August 30th and 31st, the Department of Energy’s Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (FESAC) met for the first time since the transition to the Biden Administration. FESAC is chartered to provide independent advice to the Director of the Office of Science on scientific and technological issues in the fusion energy sciences program. Earlier this year, FESAC published its Long Range Plan, outlining the next steps in US government fusion research.
At the conclusion of the 2-day meeting, Andrew Holland, CEO of the Fusion Industry Association, provided public comment to the committee. Minutes of the meeting will be available on the DoE Website.
Members of the Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee: thank you for the opportunity to make a comment.
I am the CEO of the Fusion Industry Association. Over the last several months, many of my 23 member companies have made major announcements about their fundraising, scientific results, and next steps to build breakthrough fusion facilities. Just a few examples: CFS began building its demonstration facility in Massachusetts. TAE announced a successful scientific campaign and plans for their new machine. Helion Energy revealed the results of its successful scientific campaign, and started building their 7th experiment. And General Fusion announced plans to build a fusion demonstration plant in the United Kingdom.
Prior to these announcements, the release of the FESAC Long Range Plan, the National Academies report, and the passage by Congress of a new fusion title in the Energy Act of 2020 signaled a new direction towards energy in the US government’s fusion energy sciences program.
The Members of the FIA were excited to build the partnerships and teams called for by these reports.
We are at a critical moment in fusion. The excitement of these announcements and breakthrough results from NIF and elsewhere are catalyzing interest.
However we’re now more than 6 months later than the reports releases, and my companies see no signal from the government that these will be acted on. The administration’s 2022 budget does not include enough funding to begin the move toward commercial fusion energy. Even worse, the budget did nothing to create the new programs and partnerships called for by Congress and little to start the planning called for by the National Academies. But this cannot just be pushed onto the OMB – DOE can begin planning for these new partnerships by hiring a coordinator for public-private partnerships and initiating the new programs – like an IFE program or an alternatives program – as required by Congress. DOE can expand existing public-private partnerships to bring in University expertise.
We cannot wait for more budget cycles to see incremental budget and program changes. The climate crisis is getting worse, and public policy is moving fast to address this challenge. If the US fusion research program does not evolve to meet this demand, it will be left behind by policy, infrastructure, and by its competitors.
America’s competitors are not waiting. The U.K. government has announced its intention to create a pilot fusion power plant by 2040, and it attracted the Canadian company General Fusion to build its fusion demonstration plant in the U.K., in a public-private partnership.
China, too, is investing billions of dollars into fusion energy, and it’s seeing results. While I wouldn’t expect FIA Member companies to move to China, there have already been efforts to bring their technology or IP to China. Fusion fits closely in their government’s professed efforts to dominate the technologies of the 21st century.
So, If the U.S. government does not quickly move, as called for by these reports we could lose a new industry.
The FIA is working with the Congressional Fusion Energy Caucus to move quickly. As Congress considers infrastructure legislation, we’re arguing that fusion energy must be included. The FIA has proposed a $1 billion public-private partnership program for the upcoming reconciliation infrastructure climate plan. It would accelerate fusion commercialization by investing in building new, scientific demonstration facilities here in the U.S.
But FES can get started with much less.
Yes, we need new funding. But we also need a sense of urgency from the Department of Energy. FESAC can use its oversight role to push the program forward with urgency. Private industry wants to work with the government program. But we’re not going to wait forever. You should use public private partnerships to leverage public investment with private dollars to catalyze a new industry and meet the goals outlined by the FESAC report any by the National Academies.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment. The FIA’s Member companies stand ready to work with the public fusion program.