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FPN04-17

DOE Plans Termination of All Fusion Technology Efforts

March 10, 2004

According to the U.S. Department of Energy's FY 2005 budget submission to Congress, and a subsequent clarifying letter from DOE Office of Science director Raymond Orbach, the Department plans to terminate all its efforts on Fusion Technology by September 30 of this year. These efforts were funded at a level of $11.1 million in FY 2003. In a related action, the DOE also plans to reduce its efforts on Advanced Design and Analysis of fusion energy systems from $6 million in FY 2003 to $2.6 million in FY 2005. The DOE had proposed last year to terminate the Fusion Technology effort in FY 2004 but a Congressional add-on and a strongly-worded letter to Orbach from his Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (FESAC), resulted in a partial reprieve. DOE has since announced that it used the Congressional add-on to plan for "orderly close-out" of the Fusion Technology programs in FY 2004.

In its letter to Orbach last year (FPN03-17), FESAC said, "...devastating cuts in certain program elements are alarming; this note expresses our most serious concerns," and commented, "Thus, FESAC is puzzled by the elimination in the FY 2004 budget of funding for fusion technology." The FESAC said, "Similarly, inertial fusion energy (IFE) is an important element of a balanced US fusion program: it provides the principal alternative to magnetic fusion and takes advantage of NNSA investments in the National Ignition Facility. The FY 2004 budget, however, eliminates (fusion) chamber technology for both MFE (magnetic fusion energy) and IFE. With respect to the Advanced Design and Analysis program, the FESAC said, "The study of future energy systems is a central component of fusion research. Its evolving conceptualization of an eventual fusion power plant has helped us visualize our target, while allowing us to identify key scientific challenges." "In summary," the 2003 FESAC letter said, "FESAC finds the Presidential request for fusion research funding in FY 2004 to be not only meager but also harmfully distorted. It terminates components of the program that are truly essential." The recent FY 2005 budget request is similar to the FY 2004 with regard to the funding distributions criticized by FESAC in 2003.

In a recent letter to Livermore scientist John Lindl, DOE Office of Science director Ray Orbach defended the planned termination of the Fusion Techology effort, saying, "The issue really is the degree to which our Fusion Energy Sciences program should become an energy development program. The Administration position on this issue is that now is not the right time for us to invest energy related R&D for fusion, either for MFE or for IFE." Orbach said, "For MFE, funding for energy relevant technology R&D will wait for the results of ITER. Similarly, for IFE, we will wait for the achievement of ignition and gain before investing in the technology required for energy applications." "Until we are confident that we understand the science of fusion, we would be taking an unacceptable risk to commit the sums required to develop the technology needed to apply that science," Orbach said.

Critics of the Orbach letter point out that, even at the FY 2003 level of $11 million, the programs at issue were only about 5% of the fusion budget, that the science of fusion was judged sufficiently understood to justify the construction of NIF (a $4 billion expenditure) and the proposed construction of ITER (an estimated $5 billion expenditure), and that various review panels have judged the probability of NIF and ITER achieving their performance objectives to be high. Critics say that it is one thing to differ on the amount to be spent preparing for the longer term and quite another to have a policy to spend nothing.

The complete text of the Orbach letter to John Lindl and Lindl's original email to Orbach are appended below:


From Orbach to Lindl. March 2004:

Dear John,

Thank you for your thoughtful email after the Fusion Power Associates meeting. I have taken some time to reply because this subject is an important one and because it is broader than Inertial Fusion Energy. The issue really is the degree to which our Fusion Energy Sciences program should become an energy development program. The Administration position on this issue is that now is not the right time for us to invest in energy related R&D for fusion, for either MFE or for IFE. Our FY 2005 budget request to Congress reflects this position.

As you know, we have charged FESAC to review all aspects of our Inertial Fusion Energy program, including that funded in NNSA. Our intention is to assemble the various portions of IFE, wherever it is supported, to see whether a coherent national program could be put together for energy purposes. This assessment will be valuable, but it seems wise to wait for NNSA to develop the science further before we make any major commitment to IFE for energy purposes.

In the meantime, we intend to focus our IFE program on the science issues of IFE, including the heavy ion accelerator physics program which contributes to non-neutral plasma physics. Our fast ignition work is our current contribution to the emerging field of high energy density physics, an area that we hope to expand in the future. While focusing on IFE science, we are bringing the IFE and the MFE long range fusion technology program elements to conclusion this year, using the Congressional supplement to our budget request to complete those activities in an orderly way.

For MFE, funding for the energy relevant technology R&D will wait for the results of ITER. Similarly, for IFE, we will wait for the achievement of ignition and gain before investing in the technology required for energy applications. I understand your desire to move more quickly, but our budgets are highly constrained. Until we are confident that we understand the science of fusion, we would be taking an unacceptable risk to commit the sums required to develop the technology needed to apply that science.

Sincerely,
Raymond L. Orbach


>From Lindl to Orbach:

Date: Sun, 23 Nov 2003 20:36:51 -0800
To: ray.orbach@science.doe.gov
From: John Lindl
Subject: My comments at the Fusion Power Associates Meeting

Dear Dr. Orbach,

I would like to apologize for interrupting you at the FPA meeting while you were answering my question regarding support for the Inertial approach to fusion energy (IFE) within DOE and the Administration more generally. I recognize that your work on behalf of fusion has been critical in the US decision to rejoin ITER and in the US effort to bring negotiations to a successful conclusion. A burning plasma experiment is essential for the future of MFE, both in the US and in the broader world MFE program. As such, ITER is clearly the top priority for the US Fusion program. I am doing everything I can to utilize the resources at LLNL to help make ITER a success.

What I was trying to express in my question was a tremendous sense of frustration felt by everyone working in IFE. The US Government will have spent over $3B building NIF. To spend nothing exploring the issues beyond ignition which will determine whether inertial fusion has a viable path toward energy production seems incomprehensible to me. The equivalent in MFE would be to say that the entire world program in magnetic fusion should be nothing but ITER. Yet this seems to be where we are heading in IFE.

The principal IFE work supported by the Office of Science, involving the scientific assessment of the use of ion beams (HIF), has decreased from almost $20M in FY99 to about $13M this FY. The effective elimination this FY of the scientific program addressing fusion chamber issues in IFE is a crippling blow to the heavy ion effort. Most of this work, which involved small scale scientific experiments and analysis, was carried out at universities. My understanding is that the OMB continues to push for further reductions in the OFES HIF program.

As you mentioned, the Congress has actually been quite supportive of funding research on IFE to take advantage of the NNSA stockpile stewardship research on NIF and the associated ignition program. In fact the Congressional add-ons to support research on lasers and z-pinches total $29M for FY04. Thus almost 70% of the IFE related research in FY04 is funded by Congressional mandate. In spite of the year-to-year uncertainty in funding, the researchers involved in this work have put together an excellent program. However, in the longer term, this is a completely untenable situation.

I am well aware of the reasons given by NNSA for why they cannot broaden their mission statement to include IFE, why this money is not part of the OS budget, and why the OMB wants to eliminate IFE research. My question to you is do you see any possible way out of this quagmire? The recent interest in high energy density physics is certainly a thrust that I support. But that on its own will not support a program to develop the science needed to establish the basis for IFE. It is the equivalent of trying to base the MFE program on the value to Astrophysical phenomena of magnetic reconnection or turbulence in magnetized plasmas. These kinds of applications are valuable but not the organizing principle of an Office of FUSION ENERGY Science.

Sincerely,
John