Perhaps the biggest threat to human health and prosperity we have ever encountered is the existential threat posed by the climate emergency. It also comes with a unique challenge: even with current progress in renewable energy production, greenhouse-gas-emitting fossil fuels are expected to supply a considerable share of future energy. By 2050, the global energy output is predicted to treble, with these fuels providing the majority of power. This is a serious issue as we attempt to mitigate the worst consequences of climate change, and it is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. However, there is a technical solution on the horizon that has the potential to permanently fix this energy dilemma, provide us with a formidable weapon in the fight against climate change, and unlock hitherto unfathomable economic possibilities. Fusion energy is the name of this technology. And, once developed, it has the potential to generate large volumes of low-cost zero-carbon energy. The United States Congress must support this strategy.
Fusion is a nuclear process that produces energy by merging two light nuclei, which powers the sun. It generates massive amounts of energy while creating no long-lived radioactive isotopes or hazardous waste.
Fusion’s enticing prospects have been the domain of futurists for decades. The temperatures and pressures required for fusion processes are extremely high, and the materials required to harness and regulate the reaction have long outstripped our technical capabilities. Scientists and engineers, on the other hand, have taken a methodical approach to these problems and are beginning to move fusion power for humankind out of the realm of science fantasy.
A booming fusion sector in the United States is making strides in commercializing energy-generating equipment that will supply clean, safe, and economical power and industrial heat. Several American businesses are already working on commercializing fusion technology and supplying electricity to the grid, with recent accomplishments adding to the positive outlook. The Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee of the Department of Energy has proposed that a U.S. experimental pilot plant being built by the 2040s. According to a strategic plan released earlier this year by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, a preliminary design for such a facility should be finished by 2025.
This work is in line with worldwide research, particularly the ITER fusion experiment in France, which is set to begin operations within the next ten years. ITER has kept fusion moving forward, taking advantage of considerable breakthroughs in materials and computers, as well as increasing knowledge of what it takes to make fusion work, according to researchers and policymakers in the US and internationally. The US government has contributed to the funding of ITER, and that money is frequently used to support contracts with US corporations, labs, and academic institutions. It has served as a vital conduit for international collaboration.
As a result of this achievement, federal funding may be able to help put fusion on a path to being a cornerstone in the battle against climate change. Until now, discussions over fossil fuels and whether and how much to help build renewable energy sources have dominated Congress’ focus on energy issues. It is past time for Congress to take fusion energy more seriously, to educate its members about its enormous potential, and to make wise investments that may yield huge returns.
To assist achieve these goals, I just founded the Congressional Fusion Energy Caucus. Members of Congress from both parties, including party leaders, have joined our new working group, which believes fusion should be part of the climate answer. We’re not doing this merely for the sake of symbolism or to tick a box. Through the Department of Energy’s Fusion Energy Sciences Program, I collaborated with this group to pioneer a bipartisan campaign to greatly enhance federal spending on fusion energy.
This boost would be used to finance scientific infrastructure as well as research and development to speed up present progress.
Today, Congress is collaborating with the Biden administration on a once-in-a-generation investment in infrastructure and climate change mitigation. This funding is desperately required, and there is a slew of great climate innovations that may benefit from it. Fusion power is deserving of a place among them.
Given the absence of demonstrable outcomes too far, some claim that we spend too much on fusion, yet the potential return on investment is enormous. The costs of failing to create renewable energy sources capable of powering our system, on the other hand, are unacceptably high. We are closer to success than we have ever been.
We can already see that the green economy has enormous economic development potential. Jobs in the clean energy industry are among the fastest increase in the country, including in Virginia, which I represent in the United States House of Representatives. On a global scale, we frequently compete with other countries that made early investments in solar technology. Now is the moment to put America on a firmer basis to develop what might one day be the world’s most vital and powerful source of energy.
Innovation in this field might lead to economic prospects worth trillions—yes, trillions—of dollars for the United States. It also has significant ramifications for our national security at a time when energy policy and global resource competitiveness continue to drive so many difficulties in international relations on every continent.
Others will pursue fusion energy if we do not, and the United States’ economic interests and influence would suffer as a result. ITER might show that fusion is feasible and pave the path for commercial fusion facilities in any country. We can become the first country to commercialize fusion by sponsoring research and demonstration programs in the United States, as well as foreign efforts. In the development of fusion, there are certain areas where scientific collaboration with friends would be mutually advantageous, but we must lead rather than follow this technical growth.
During this epidemic, American scientists and engineers have performed technical miracles and saved countless lives by developing and delivering vaccinations quickly, an accomplishment few thought possible just one year ago. With Congress and the federal government’s help, the United States could become the world leader in fusion energy and perform fresh miracles for the environment, our economy, and all of humankind.