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The Next Generation of Fusion Energy Research

Date: Thursday, October 29, 2009 Time: 10:00 AM Location: 2318 Rayburn House Office Building

Opening Statement By Chairman Brian Baird

Fusion energy has successfully powered the sun and the stars for billions of years, so it’s no surprise that man would try to recreate and harness this energy source here on earth. However, we all know that a working fusion reactor has been much more difficult to achieve than our atomic age scientists initially expected. Over the years, there were also some overly optimistic or even fraudulent proclamations by self-identified fusion researchers who skipped the peer review process and went straight to the media, further complicating the popular and political assessment of the extent to which the federal government should continue to support this research.
That said, according to recent reviews by the National Academies and the Department of Energy, there have been significant developments in the fields of advanced computing, engineering, and plasma science over the last twenty years that have led to a far better understanding of how to create and control a fusion system. Within about three years time, the National Ignition Facility in California is expected to become the first fusion device in the world to produce more energy than it consumes, though only for at most a handful of brief experiments per day. And in Cadarache, France, the large international fusion project called ITER is about to begin construction. This experiment is designed to produce 5 times more energy than it consumes for several consecutive hours, as well as 10 times more for at least 500 seconds.
If these new facilities are successful, they will represent a dramatic turning point in developing a viable, commercial fusion reactor. Big questions will still remain, such as how affordable fusion can be in comparison to other options, and what the appropriate choices are for materials in a device which contains gases that can be hotter than the sun. But the U.S. fusion program needs to do all it can to ensure these successes, and be ready to take advantage of them if and when they occur.

I look forward to learning more from this excellent panel of witnesses on how this program should evolve in light of recent developments, and with that I yield to our distinguished Ranking Member, Mr. Inglis.



0 - Dr. Edmund Synakowski
Director Office of Fusion Energy Science U.S. Department of Energy Office of Fusion Energy Science U.S. Department of Energy
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0 - Dr. Stewart Prager
Director Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory
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0 - Dr. Thom Mason
Director Oak Ridge National Laboratory Oak Ridge National Laboratory
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0 - Dr. Riccardo Betti
Assistant Director for Academic Affairs Laboratory for Laser Energetics University of Rochester Laboratory for Laser Energetics University of Rochester
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0 - Dr. Raymond J. Fonck
Professor of Engineering Physics University of Wisconsin University of Wisconsin
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