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Advisory Committee Releases Long-Range Plan for U.S. Fusion Energy Sciences Program

Fusion community joins together to put forward a path for the next decade

A subcommittee convened by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (FESAC) to develop a long-range plan for FES has released its final report that lays out a strategic plan for fusion energy and plasma science research over the next decade. The report has been two years in the making, gathering an unprecedented level of input and support from across the diverse U.S. fusion energy and plasma sciences community. Its strategic plan charts a path for the U.S. as it seeks to develop fusion as a limitless and practical source of energy. The plan also embraces discovery plasma science to advance our understanding of the plasma state of matter and translate this understanding into a wide range of transformative technologies in areas such as advance manufacturing, medicine, and agriculture.

“Extremely valuable”

“This report is extremely valuable,” said Steve Cowley, director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, who provided input to the committee. “It will serve as a blueprint for how the U.S. can lead the world to solve its energy problems, by laying out steps to develop fusion energy. I am extremely encouraged by this long-range plan, and I can foresee development of fusion energy taking on increased importance to the country, and the world.”

PPPL physicist Rajesh Maingi served on the FESAC subcommittee that drafted the report and is also a member of FESAC. “The report lays out quite succinctly the steps needed to advance fusion energy and plasma science and technology as we, one, approach the readiness for construction of a fusion pilot plant, and two, develop new groundbreaking applications for plasma uses for societal benefit,” Maingi said. “I feel fortunate to have served on the FESAC subcommittee with many talented, collegial scholars as we identified the exciting possibilities and priorities in several budget scenarios as requested in the charge letter.”

Another PPPL physicist, Nate Ferraro, has been a key member of the American Physical Society-Division of Plasma Physics (APS-DPP) Community Planning Process, which delivered its recommendations to FESAC in March.

Grassroots leadership

Troy Carter, a University of California, Los Angeles physics professor and chair of the FESAC Long Range Planning Subcommittee, said: "For the first time, a long-range plan for fusion and plasma research has been created starting with grassroots leadership from the research community. The hard work and passion of the community resulted in the unique vision for development of fusion energy and advancement of plasma science expressed in the report.”

The FESAC report comes as broad interest in the field is growing. The report proposes a path for the U.S. program as it works toward the ultimate goal of practical fusion energy while exploring the discovery plasma science that is a critical part of the FES program.

Fusion energy is much closer than many people realize. Decades of public investment in fusion research have yielded important advances. These include the first burning plasma experiment to demonstrate 500 MW of fusion power – the ITER experiment in France. The U.S. is one of 6 ITER partners and a strong supporter of the project, which will start operations in 2025, having passed the 70 percent construction mark this year. Multiple private companies are developing promising alternative paths to fusion energy as well, and investors have taken notice, pouring over a billion dollars into these efforts.

Ultimate goal

The ultimate goal of both private and public investment is to develop fusion into an essentially inexhaustible source of clean, carbon-free electricity that is available at all hours of the day and night. Fusion fuel creates no long-lived or high-level radioactive waste. The process is inherently safe and ideally suited to complement other renewable sources of energy.

Discovery plasma science holds the promise to improve our world in other significant ways, including helping understand the nature of plasma, which makes up more than 99 percent of visible matter in the universe. Plasma research has yielded important discoveries that are already benefitting national defense, supporting high-tech manufacturing such as the multibillion-dollar microelectronics industry, and future applications in medicine, materials science and engineering, and agriculture.

PPPL, on Princeton University's Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, N.J., is devoted to creating new knowledge about the physics of plasmas — ultra-hot, charged gases — and to developing practical solutions for the creation of fusion energy. The Laboratory is managed by the University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more Information, visit energy.gov/science.

U.S. Department of Energy
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University.

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