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Of Interest

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Fusion in the United States

A vision and a plan

For any Member to take full advantage of ITER's first-of-a-kind science and engineering, their ITER-related activities must be coupled with a domestic fusion R&D program. The latest Member to take this step forward is the United States. As characterized by Wayne Solomon, Director of Science and Technology at General Atomics, "This is an important and exciting time for US fusion researchers."

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Recent reports from the Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (FESAC) and National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) illustrate a remarkable step forward, in that multiple sectors of the US fusion community—from government, private industry, and academia—have converged on a vision and plan. Both reports recommend substantial investments in US facilities, and capitalizing on ITER's ongoing engineering innovations and forthcoming scientific research data to help spur US-based pilot plant innovations.

Recognizing that participation in ITER will enable the acquisition of knowledge in burning plasma physics as well as tokamak engineering, materials science, and other disciplines, one of the priorities from the FESAC report released in 2020 is the creation of a robust research team to ensure that the US fusion community extracts maximum benefits from ITER."This recommendation is to ensure full engagement of the fusion community in ITER," said Troy Carter, chair of the FESAC report, during a recent American Nuclear Society (ANS) webinar. "We need to form this ITER research team, and we need to do it soon."

The NASEM report released in February 2021 further reflects ITER's role in spurring a US pilot plant, specifically through stimulating the economy with in-kind contributions. "A lot of what has already been done for ITER—in terms of R&D, technology development, design and fabrication of components—all of that has helped to create an environment where there's more interest in fusion, and private industry is making investments," said Kathy McCarthy, Director of the US ITER Project, at a NASEM webinar last month.

The United States considers ITER and the pilot plant projects to be on parallel tracks. "We've got in our plans more than one path that we'd like to pursue, in terms of these designs for a pilot plant, because one or more of them may not succeed," McCarthy added. "But again, having the ITER activities going on in parallel and providing information to that pilot plant activity is important."

Arturo Dominguez, Science Education Senior Program Leader at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), maintains that ITER and domestic engagement go hand in hand. "In terms of workforce development, the message and excitement of ITER (especially now that it's more than 70% built) is really important."

Among the methods for continuous workforce development is engaging industry through public-private partnerships on the model of SpaceX and NASA. Carter hopes that industry will be an active partner to new facilities, in tandem with the research community. "We [should] look for those opportunities and take them."

The formation of teams will be driven by national laboratories, industry, universities, and others, with each group bringing specific knowledge to the table. However, expanding access to opportunity is a blind spot the community acknowledges and plans to improve.

"Improving diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the research community would make it so all scientists are welcomed, supported, and able to do their best work," Steve Binkley, deputy director of the Office of Science at the Department of Energy, recently wrote. "Those improvements would help create the workforce that can carry out the long-range plan."

The fusion community is optimistic, with all eyes on government appropriations, a process during which both Houses of Congress review the administration's proposed budget. "The results of these interactions will be seen when the President sends his FY22 budget request to Congress," said Steve Dean. "The date for that has not been announced but should be in the next [two] weeks."



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