US Moves to Accelerate Fusion Energy Amid Slow Progress

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The Biden administration is stepping up its efforts to support research into fusion energy, saying more financing is needed to meet its bold vision for harnessing the energy of the stars. 

The US Energy Department announced $180 million to support fusion research at an event in Washington Thursday. That’s paired with plans to develop a public-private consortium framework that would boost federal efforts by tapping funding from state and local governments, philanthropists and private industry, according to a statement. 

President Joe Biden aims to develop commercial fusion systems within a decade. But recreating the process that powers stars is an enormous challenge, and progress has been slow. The new efforts come as the Energy Department recognizes that the current pace of advances is not on track to meet Biden’s timeline.

Commercial nuclear power plants are based on fission, splitting large atoms in a process that generates energy. Fusion is the opposite, fusing small atoms together to release energy. In 2022 scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory were able to trigger a fusion reaction that produced more energy than it required to achieve, a long-sought breakthrough.

“The vision is very simple,” Mickey Wade, associate laboratory director for fusion and fission energy at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, said at Thursday’s event. “We’ve got to move an idea to deployment. So far, this has just been a program about ideas.” 

Since the 2022 breakthrough, Lawrence Livermore has successfully repeated the process four times, Tammy Ma, a plasma physicist at the lab, said at the event. That progress, she said, validates efforts to develop a commercial fusion industry. 

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

By Will Wade


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