White House Fusion Energy Summit
On March 17, LLE Director Dr. Mike Campbell participated in a White House sponsored summit on fusion energy. The summit was motivated by President Biden’s commitment to decarbonize energy production to mitigate climate change and to make affordable and environmentally acceptable energy for everyone on the planet. The summit was hosted by the President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and introductory and very supportive remarks were made by Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm and Alondra Nelson, head of policy at OSTP. It was very good to see the diversity in the leadership for this event!
Recent scientific advances that also motivated the summit, including the demonstration of a high-field magnet (20 T or about 400,000 times stronger than the earth’s magnetic field) by Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), the steady-state (5 s) fusion output by the JET tokamak in the UK and the 1.35 MJ ignition shot on the NIF were highlighted. The advances that have been made at LLE in the science (physics, laser S&T) and fusion performance of laser direct drive were also discussed throughout the day.
The summit participants included scientific leaders in fusion research, chief executives of newly formed and well-financed fusion energy companies (CFS, Helion, General Fusion), and investors. Congressmen Don Beyer of Virginia and Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee also gave remarks and highlighted the bipartisan support for fusion. Not surprisingly, much of the attention was focused on magnetic fusion, but Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Director, Kim Budil; University of Texas Professor and co-founder of Focused Energy, Todd Dittmire; and LLE’s Mike Campbell made sure that inertial fusion energy (IFE) was not forgotten.
There was overwhelming strong support and enthusiasm for fusion energy. It is expected that there will be increasing interest and funding from both private and public sources in the near future. The University and LLE are recognized by everyone as a center of excellence in IFE and supporting fusion science such as that related to tritium. An important organizational change reflecting the interest in fusion energy was also announced by Secretary Granholm. Dr. Scott Hsu, who presently runs the fusion portfolio at ARPA-E, was announced as the Senior Fusion advisor for all of the Department of Energy (DOE). He will advise and recommend fusion research topics and priorities across all relevant offices in DOE including the Office of Science, Nuclear Energy, and NNSA. UR/LLE is well known to Hsu and he has long recognized the excellence of the science and technology at LLE.
The need for fusion energy is clear and the progress that has been made over the past decades is impressive. It will be important as we move forward to highlight the successes and recognize the challenges that must be overcome to realize the promise of fusion energy. This will not be easy, but the quality of the science, engineering, operations, and administration at UR/LLE, the strategy of developing partnerships, and the courage to be bold will give LLE the opportunity to be a leader and to eventually make fusion energy on the grid a reality!
Fusion energy is like a marathon relay race—those who start are not the ones that finish but they all stand at the podium together when the race is won. As John F. Kennedy once said, “on earth God’s work must truly be our own.” Fusion is nature’s way of powering the visible universe, and making it here for everyone is a challenge we must address to make those words come true.