April 23, 2024

A powerful Department of Energy advisory committee (DOE) has recommended that the country move aggressively toward deploying fusion fuel. This includes investments in technology to support one of the core missions of LLNL’s National Ignition Facility (NIF), laying the foundation for inertial fusion energy (IFE).

The Fusion Energy Science Advisory Committee (FESAC) issued the report Powering Future: Fusion & Plasmas in December. The February National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report (NASEM), which called for aggressive action to construct a U.S. pilot fusion plant within the next 2035, quickly followed.

Two years in the making, the FESAC report provides a decade-long vision of U.S. Fusion Energy and Plasma Science under the DOE Office of Science’sScience’s Fusion Energy Sciences program (FES). Tammy Ma, a NIF&PS physicist, is a member of FESAC and the subcommittee. She said that LLNL was a crucial participant in the planning process for plasma physics, which laid the foundations for the 10-year strategic plan.

The FESAC and NASEM report both focus on developing and using magnetic fusion energy (MFE). This is illustrated by the ITER experiment, which was conducted in France. The United States is one 35-nation participant in ITER. It is more than 70% complete and aims for its first plasma operations in 2025.

However, the reports acknowledge the need to simultaneously pursue other government and private technologies for fusion, such as IFE. The FESAC report also notes the “enormous progress” NIF has made towards ignition. Both pieces recommend partnerships with private, federal, and international investors. They also outline potential growth opportunities in fusion research and plasma science, which NIF actively pursues (see “10 Year Report Highlights NIF’sNIF’s Contributions to Plasma Science.”).

Ma stated that FES has historically funded MFE research in America, funded IFE research, and supported academic high-energy-density physics research in America. Although the FES funds LLNL receives annually are not as large as those obtained from NNSA (the National Nuclear Security Administration), the FES chart has significantly impacted the trajectory of fusion research at the Lab.

She stated that the report “establishes a strong, coordinated plan for fusion energy and plasma science over the next ten years in the U.S.A, and LLNL plays an important role.”

FESAC’s report contains recommendations for FES and prioritizations to FES regarding a portfolio of research and technology development under three budget scenarios: unconstrained, moderate (2 percent) growth, and constant.

The report contains points and recommendations that are relevant to LLNL’sLLNL’s work:

  • Even in a no-growth budget situation, you can restart an IFE program.
  • Continue robust funding for the High Energy Density Laboratory Plasmas (HEDLP) program co-sponsored by NNSA.
  • Complete the construction and design of the Matter under Extreme Conditions.
  • (MEC) Upgrade at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. LLNL supports this effort.
  • Coordinate a High-Intensity laser Research Initiative (FES) with other federal agencies.
  • Continue to develop a multi-petawatt, quadrillion-watt laser facility. A U.S high-repetition rate high-intensity las facility is also being designed. HAPLS was delivered in June 2017 to the Extreme Light Infrastructure Beamlines Facility in the Czech Republic.
  • We support LaserNetUS strongly, with aggressive upgrades if funds allow. LLNL’sLLNL’s Jupiter Laser Facility leads the LaserNetUS effort to restore high-intensity laser research in the U.S.
  • Up to 2040, establish a pilot plant for fusion in the United States.
  • Strive to pursue alternative and innovative fusion ideas.
  • Construct and design a Z-pinch pulsed power facility of mid-scale size, preferably with partners from other agencies. LLNL is working on advanced diagnostics for Sandia National Laboratories’Laboratories’ Z Machine.
  • Provide support for a robust public-private partnership program.

Ma stated that even under a constant budget scenario, Ma believes that provisions are made to support these activities. Building new facilities is impossible, but it is recommended that you pursue conceptual design and technology development.

The DOE-sponsored NASEM Report Bringing Fusion into the U.S. Grid outlines the scientific and technical innovations needed if fusion is to be a part of the rapid transition to a low-carbon economy by 2050. The NASEM plan calls to produce a pilot plant design in 2028 and add fusion energy to an electric grid within 2035-2040.

The report said that virtually inexhaustible fusion energy could provide a source of clean, carbon-free baseline electricity for the U.S. grid, playing a vital role as the nation decarbonizes its electricity-generation infrastructure. Fusion is a source of abundant hydrogen fuels and does not produce radioactive waste. Fusion is safe by nature and can be used in conjunction with other sources of renewable energy.

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