Safe, Clean and Limitless Energy: A Landmark Plan for Realizing Fusion Power

Fusion Energy Concept

Creating and controlling on Earth the fusion energy that powers the sun and stars is a key goal of scientists around the world. Production of this safe, clean and limitless energy could generate electricity for all humanity, and the possibility is growing closer to reality. Now a landmark report released this week by the American Physical Society Division of Plasma Physics Community Planning Process proposes immediate steps for the United States to take to accelerate U.S. development of this long-sought power.  The report also details opportunities for advancing our understanding of plasma physics and for applying that understanding to benefit society.

The report, the Community Plan for Fusion Energy and Discovery Plasma Sciences, “reflects the enthusiasm among the U.S. fusion and plasma physics community to take bold steps to make fusion energy a reality, to expand our understanding of plasma physics, and to use that understanding to benefit society,” said physicist Nathan Ferraro of the U.S. Department of Energy’s  (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), a co-chair of the plan assembled over a year by the community.

Physicist Nathan Ferraro

PPPL physicist Nathan Ferraro with image from cover of report behind him. Credit: Photo and composite by Elle Starkman/PPPL Office of Communications

Professional societies

The 199-page document, put together with input from hundreds of U.S. scientists and engineers from many professional societies, makes numerous recommendations, including the following proposed steps:

  • In the words of the report, research going forward “should be driven by the mission to enable construction of a fusion pilot plant (FPP) that produces net electricity and thereby establishes the scientific and technological basis for commercial fusion energy.”
  • Development of this mission should include immediate design of a new U.S. tokamak, or doughnut-shaped fusion facility, capable of handling conditions consistent with those that an FPP will encounter. Also immediately begun should be design and construction of a specialized device to demonstrate the effect that neutrons released by fusion reactions will have on the facility that houses the reactions.
  • Advancing  theory and modeling capabilities needed to understand and sustain burning plasmas, in which the plasma is chiefly heated by fusion reactions. The U.S. should also sustain full membership in ITER, the international experiment under construction in France to demonstrate the production of burning plasma.
  • Scaling up research in plasma science fields ranging from astrophysics to nanotechnology. Proposed steps include construction of a general plasma science facility to study astrophysically-relevant magnetized plasma phenomena, ensuring stable funding for a balanced research portfolio, and developing networks of scientists and facilities to enable a broad range of frontier scientific research.

Designed to help fulfill a charge

The report is designed to help the Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (FESAC) fulfill a DOE charge for the development of a long-range strategy for the Fusion Energy Sciences program of the DOE Office of Science. The document calls for partnerships with other offices and governmental agencies, as well as with private industry and international partners, to enact the full recommendations of the strategic plan. “We are encouraged to see that this process brought the community together to recognize the full scope of this challenge,” said Ferraro, “and that coordinated, multi-disciplinary research and development is needed to achieve our goals.”

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.

8 Comments on "Safe, Clean and Limitless Energy: A Landmark Plan for Realizing Fusion Power"

  1. I thought that our scientists were doing exactly the actions mentioned above. If they were not working towards a fusion power generation plant, then what were all those billions of dollars that we all paid with our taxes doing exactly?

    • Probably they were given to useless projects where no progress was really made, just to keep scientists occupied instead of working on something necessary

  2. Too little too late. They have had their chance but the dog ate their homework. Now thirty years later, there are modern ideas and plans that don’t involve giant multibillion dollar tokamaks. Think of something simpler, smaller, the size of something like your AC heat exchanger, yet powerful enough to power your city. That is the future. These Carnival barkers represent the last 50 years of government fusion boondoggles with no real results pursued, nor expecter or even desired. Yes young, brilliant guy, with bright blue eyes, unfortunately we’re not looking for that…

  3. I imagine because everything and everyone in the universe isn’t the drive thru at Taco Bell there was quite a bit of trial and error with building stars in the shape of doughnuts. Doesn’t really sound like something one could whip together in an afternoon. IDK.

  4. Stanley Jordan | May 4, 2020 at 1:10 pm | Reply

    It seems we a actually doing something with our involvement with ITER. https://www.usiter.org/project/project-history

  5. Why all the negative comments? Investing Billions in something that has the potential to save you trillions from global warming related disasters is a GOOD investment.

  6. And how long before the Chinese Communist Party (not people) steal every bit of data we possess and also figures out a way to weaponize it…or do something else terrible to the world?

  7. Scientists have been fooling around with Tokamak designs for 30 years with zero success in net power. Without aneutronic fusion as described at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aneutronic_fusion we will never meet the goals of “clean” energy as neutron activation of the reactor mechanicals will create large amounts of moderately to highly radioactive scrap when the reactor must be rebuilt. I don’t believe that the tokamak design can perform aneutronic fusion.

Leave a comment

Email address is optional. If provided, your email will not be published or shared.