Executive Summary

The Biden-Harris Administration is developing a strategy to accelerate fusion energy– a clean energy technology that uses the same reaction that powers the Sun and stars. On March 17, 2022, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) co-hosted the first-ever White House summit on Developing a Bold Decadal Vision for Commercial Fusion Energy. The hybrid event drew more than 1,200 viewers to witness fusion energy leaders from government, industry, academia, and other stakeholder groups showcase progress made and have inclusive conversations about an updated fusion energy strategy. 

The Biden-Harris Administration announced three new initiatives:

  • Community Engagement: The Biden-Harris Administration will lead the development of a decadal strategy to accelerate the realization of commercial fusion energy that benefits all stakeholders. Future workshops will build on this momentum to further define a clear path to success.  
  • Department of Energy Agency-Wide Fusion Initiative: DOE launched an agency-wide initiative to accelerate the viability of commercial fusion energy in coordination with the private sector. Dr. Scott Hsu, head of the fusion program at ARPA-E, the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, was announced as the new DOE Lead Fusion Energy Coordinator and joins the Office of the Under Secretary for Science and Innovation.
  • Funding to Advance the Science for a Fusion Pilot Plant: DOE announced two funding opportunities totaling $50 million that will support foundational science and technology research connected to high-priority issues for a future fusion pilot plant, including plasma modeling, interactions, and control. 

Broad Support for Accelerating Fusion Energy

Alondra Nelson, head of OSTP and Deputy Assistant to the President, and co-host of the event, opened the Summit by conveying  the President’s commitment to clean energy science and technology, and the need for innovation to benefit all communities. “Fusion is one of a much larger suite of clean energy gamechangers that [are] commensurate with the scale that the climate challenge requires. Now is the time for courageous innovation to accelerate fusion energy,” said Nelson. “It’s not enough to just get the technology right. From day one, we need an inclusive approach for technology development. Where every part of our society – especially those who are marginalized or vulnerable – have a say about safety, jobs, and facility siting, as well as the opportunity to get the knowledge and skills needed to participate in emerging clean energy industries and benefit from their inventions.” 

Jennifer Granholm, the Secretary of Energy and summit co-host, highlighted the technical strength of the DOE National Laboratories to advance fusion science and innovation. On where we are now, Granholm commented, “We believe we are making great progress. But it’s going to take time to get fusion commercialized. It would be amazing if fusion were a part of what I call the silver buckshot of a clean energy future.”

Gina McCarthy, White House National Climate Advisor, spoke about the ways the Biden-Harris Administration is addressing climate change, such as a commitment to get to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035, more solar projects on public lands, the launch of a new American offshore wind industry, and electric vehicle manufacturing here in America. On the Fusion Summit, McCarthy said, “I’m glad to be here with you all today at the launch of what could become another American clean energy game changer: fusion energy.” Making the case that we need to deploy currently available technologies and innovate to develop new ones at the same time, McCarthy said, “We are in a decisive decade right now, and we need to advance bold climate action, both by deploying the technologies we already have, and enabling America to grow as a clean energy innovation hub.”

Brenda Mallory, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), highlighted CEQ’s role as coordinator of the federal government’s efforts to improve, preserve, and protect America’s environment, public lands, and health. On the Fusion Summit, Chair Mallory said, “While capturing the power of fusion energy here on Earth is thrilling science, it presents both promise and pause to the communities. By working to integrate environmental justice on the front end of development, we have a chance to ensure fusion energy benefits all communities and does not repeat harmful mistakes of the past.”

Congress’ bipartisan Fusion Energy Caucus Chair Congressman Don Beyer and Caucus member Congressman Chuck Fleischmann added their support at the Summit, talking about the enormous potential of fusion energy. On the opportunity for fusion to advance energy independence with near-limitless fuel derived from seawater, Beyer said, “We always worry about peak oil, and peak coal, and peak natural gas, no one ever worries about peak seawater.” Congressman Beyer added, “We can successfully forge a path to fusion energy. Fusion is the holy grail of clean energy technologies, and fusion has the potential to lift more citizens of the world out of poverty than anything since the invention of fire.” Fleischmann wrapped up with “We need a bicameral, bipartisan–in fact, I would argue non-partisan–effort on fusion energy. We can work together to get this done.”

Experts in fusion science, technology, education, and outreach spoke across three panels at the Fusion Summit on: next steps for fusion; diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility; and private sector engagement.

Fusion Energy is Ready for the Next Bold Steps

We heard from scientists and engineers that we are ready to take the next steps to accelerate fusion energy. Steve Cowley, Director of the Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, noted “2021 was an amazing year for fusion,” and detailed the list of breakthroughs –including the first time “where we got to see a fusion burn, when fusion provided the energy to keep the fuel at about 100 million degrees.” The push to accelerate fusion energy by scientists and engineers coalesced during a multi-year planning process by the fusion energy sciences community and a study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. MIT Professor Anne White, a participant in these efforts, said, “The community has come together and spoken with an extraordinarily powerful voice to say we are ready to move fast for fusion.” 

We also heard that while the critical building blocks for fusion power appear to be in place, there is much more work to do. Kim Budil, Director of the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory stated: “Even though there have been tremendous advances, there is work that remains, with significant research and development. It’s not a simple engineering problem to take this next step. So, bringing all these people together will be critically important.” Considering the prospects for a bold decadal plan for fusion energy, Budil commented, “These are the moments when the U.S. really thrives—there’s a really important problem, it requires over-the-horizon science and technology to come together now, it requires new types of partnerships that require everyone to pull together to drive this forward. It requires the government to come together across agencies to coordinate, to drive this innovation and to give us a real sense of urgency behind this problem. I am personally confident this community can meet this challenge.”

Fusion Energy is Diverse, Inclusive, Equitable, and Accessible from Day One

We heard from the environmental justice community that we cannot repeat the mistakes of the past, where some communities are disproportionately burdened by pollution and don’t share equitably in the benefits of new technologies. Seth Hoedl, President of the non-profit Post Road Foundation, made the point that starting now, “The fusion industry, to achieve these great impacts, will need to pay attention to public acceptance, energy justice, public engagement, and the just transition, and other aspects of energy ethics.” Shalanda Baker, Secretarial Advisor on Equity and Deputy Director for Energy Justice at the Department of Energy, asked, “What if we’d done this at the launch of every major technological innovation that we’ve had in this country? How just would our society be? How would communities on the frontlines of climate change, the frontlines of environmental hazards and harms, how would their lives be different had we integrated equity and justice into the conversation on day one?” Dr. Stephanie Diem, an Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin added, “we need to empower communities to have ownership in their energy choices, and start understanding their concerns now.” Matthew McKinzie of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) identified several early actions that will begin to provide the information communities and environmental advocates will need to engage on: health, safety, and environmental risks of the fusion fuel cycle; waste generation and waste management from fusion reactors; water consumption; and implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act. Regulation will play a critical role in building confidence that this technology can be safe. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has started a set of information-gathering sessions to be used in developing a regulatory framework for fusion energy.

Throughout the Summit, we heard that we need to increase diversity and inclusion in the fusion energy workforce. This nascent industry is poised to grow rapidly, and now is the time to invest in building a workforce that looks like America. The academic fields most relevant to fusion science – physics in general and plasma physics in particular – suffer from among the lowest participation of people from underrepresented groups. Abdalla Darwish, a Presidential Professor at Dillard University, highlighted  the important role that HBCUs can play in attracting students to the field – but that it is crucial to begin early, even before students enter college. Amelia Chambliss, a student about to begin graduate studies in fusion, stressed the importance of science communication and getting students excited about fusion. Describing how she explains her career choice to younger students, she said, “We’re taking these really crazy twisted coils that form a really strong magnetic field, and we’re using that to trap star stuff. And we are trying to use that star stuff to solve one of the greatest problems that humanity has ever faced—climate change… Who doesn’t want to do that for work every day?” 

Fusion Energy has a Vibrant Private Sector 

While government R&D is ongoing, with $4 billion in private sector investment in the emerging fusion industry, companies are beginning to build prototypes of fusion systems. Andrew Holland, CEO of the recently formed Fusion Industry Association, said “Right now, companies around the country and around the world are building proof of concept machines that will show that fusion works. We call this our ‘Kitty Hawk’ moment. Not the time when you sell the airplane, but the time when the airplane flies. And then, they’re going to rapidly move to making pilot plants.” With all this investment, Carly Anderson, a clean tech investor, made it clear, “This has to be competitive. We’re here because there is a business opportunity here to really create the economy of the 21st century.” To be successful, fusion power must be cost-competitive with other clean energy sources such as solar, wind, advanced nuclear reactors, and fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage. Representatives from six companies described approaches they are using to design for affordability, including: making smaller and more modular facilities; assembly-line construction; learning-by-doing with high-value fusion applications in other markets, such as medical isotopes; growing a “megalithic” industry to gain economies-of-scale; and focusing on high-value markets that are hard to decarbonize, particularly those requiring industrial heat. Reiterating the need for a diverse workforce, Helion’s David Kirtley explained, “The problem we are solving is tremendously challenging and requires an enormous amount of innovation. For every decision we’re making, we need to bring together different ideas, people from different backgrounds, different educations, to solve those problems.”

A Clean Energy Future that Works for Everyone

Sally Benson, Deputy Director for Energy at OSTP, captured the excitement of the event. She remarked on how the Administration is focused on building a clean energy future that creates good-paying jobs, lowers energy bills, and supports a path toward U.S. energy independence. Dr. Benson said, “With an accelerating climate crisis, and a war raging in Europe, made more complicated by global dependence on Russian oil and gas, we need innovation more than ever, to secure our energy future, and stop emission of greenhouse gases. The amount of fusion fuel that could fill a bathtub holds as much energy as all the oil Russia produces each day – about 10 million barrels.” On seizing the opportunity presented by fusion energy, Dr. Benson said, “Decades from now, let’s look back at this moment, in this room, when we acted boldly again, to make the impossible possible. We acted boldly together, to make fusion energy, sunlight in a bottle, a reality.”

Geraldine Richmond, Under Secretary for Science and Innovation at the Department of Energy, summarized the first-ever White House summit on fusion energy by issuing a bold call to action to the public and private sectors to help accelerate fusion energy to viability. Dr. Richmond said, “I am truly inspired to see the President’s commitment to energy justice and diversity, equity, and inclusion presented in these discussions. As Secretary Granholm said, we have a unique opportunity to build a new energy industry that’s truly representative of America and fully engages the communities it’s destined to serve. And it’s so wonderful to hear from the future generation of fusion researchers.” Under Secretary Richmond closed by saying, “Fusion promises to be a clean source of energy for the future. It will enable us to address our climate crisis, ensure U.S. science and technology leadership, and benefit our economy and national security. And we at DOE are here to make this happen in close partnership with the research community, private industry, and other important stakeholders. And now, let’s get to work!” 

See the full agenda below here. The event was live streamed and is available to view here

Learn more about fusion energy with this video and White House Fact Sheet.

Highlights from the White House Fusion Summit Panel Sessions

The sections below provide some more of the exciting highlights of the Summit panel sessions. The speaker remarks have been excerpted from the full delivered remarks, and lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

  1. Senior Governmental Leaders Outlined Opportunities and Priorities
  2. Researchers and Industry Leaders Outlined New Developments in Fusion
  3. Environmental and Energy Justice Leaders Outlined Priorities for Emerging Fusion Technology
  4. U.S. Fusion Industry and Startup Leaders Outlined Next Steps for This Exciting Industry
  5. Now Is the Time to Accelerate Fusion Energy

Senior Governmental Leaders Outlined Opportunities and Priorities 

The summit featured opening remarks from senior leaders from across the government, demonstrating President Biden’s commitment to a whole-of-government approach to advancing clean energy innovation, environmental justice, equity, and good-paying jobs.

  • Dr. Alondra Nelson, Head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy & Deputy Assistant to the President, spoke about the President’s commitment to clean energy science and technology and the need for innovation to benefit all communities. Dr. Nelson said, “It’s not enough to just get the technology right. From day one, we need an inclusive approach for technology development. Where every part of our society – especially those who are marginalized or vulnerable – have a say about safety, jobs, and facility siting, as well as the opportunity to get the knowledge and skills needed to participate in emerging clean energy industries, and benefit from their inventions.” Dr. Nelson added, “we believe that when it comes to fusion, the time is now, for several reasons. Because the pace of discovery has accelerated so much for fusion, with seven decades of public funding for fusion research leading to major recent scientific developments in recent years. Because private investment is now following where public investment first paved the way. Because we have in President Biden a leader who’s been clear that we will decarbonize our economy by 2050 – the climate science demands it. That’s why fusion is one of a much larger suite of clean energy game changers that will help America reach that goal – commensurate with the scale that the climate challenge requires. I hope we can all be back here a decade from now to celebrate the star-power we have ignited with these conversations today.” 
  • Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of Energy, spoke about the strength of the DOE National Laboratories in fusion energy innovation and science. Secretary Granholm said, “There have been significant breakthroughs delivered. We’ve developed technologies to heat and control plasmas that are ten times hotter than the center of the sun. But we also know we have to manage expectations. There’s a reason why fusion is hard. We have to be careful about overpromising, and be realistic. We believe we are making great progress. But it’s going to take time to get fusion commercialized. It would be amazing if fusion were a part of what I call the silver buckshot of a clean energy future.” Secretary Granholm added, “We also know that it’s not just us alone, countries around the world are clamoring to get ahead on fusion technology. We know that private sector investment in fusion is booming, at $3 billion last year. And we heard from professors that students are very excited, and we can hopefully create a pipeline of the next generation of scientists.” Secretary Granholm said, “the landscape for fusion research, development, and demonstration is shifting, and so our strategy has to shift with it. That’s why we are excited to join with OSTP to craft a bold vision to accelerate fusion energy. DOE is announcing an agency-wide fusion initiative to coordinate fusion energy research under one umbrella, to seize the opportunity to advance the technology. I’m excited to announce that Dr. Scott Hsu, who presently leads ARPA-E’s fusion energy effort, will be our Lead Coordinator. Second, we are announcing two funding opportunities totaling $50 million for basic fusion energy research that will support the designing of a fusion pilot plant.” Secretary Granholm also spoke about the future of the fusion workforce, saying, “Our efforts with OSTP is going to be focused on more than just innovation, it’s about building out a fusion energy workforce that looks like America, that’s diverse, that’s equitable, that’s inclusive, and that we are establishing trust in this technology with the public. Safety, security, and open communication are going to be the foundation of this industry.”
  • Gina McCarthy, White House National Climate Advisor, spoke about the ways the Biden-Harris Administration is taking bold actions on climate change, such as a commitment to get to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035, more solar projects on public lands, the launch of a new American offshore wind industry, and electric vehicle manufacturing here in America. She also spoke about how America can lead the world with new energy technologies and innovation. NCA McCarthy said, “I’m glad to be here with you all today at the launch of what could become another American clean energy game changer, fusion energy. Fusion energy could be a virtually limitless source of clean electricity and heat, available when and where we need it. But we have to do this right, and that’s why it’s important to heavily engage a broad set of stakeholders from the very beginning, so we can better understand the technology. We have to articulate in plain language so people can understand the benefits and any risks, and make sure we center equity every step of the way.” She added, “We have to act on climate change, so our country can win the 21st century economy, and that’s what fusion presents us with—tremendous opportunities as well as challenges. We are in a decisive decade right now, and we need to advance bold climate action, both by deploying the technologies we already have, and enabling America to grow as a clean energy innovation hub.”
  • Brenda Mallory, the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), spoke about CEQ’s role as coordinator of the federal government’s efforts to improve, preserve, and protect America’s environment, public lands, and health. Chair Mallory said, “While capturing the power of fusion energy here on Earth is thrilling science, it presents both promise and pause to the communities. By working to integrate environmental justice on the front end of development, we have a chance to ensure fusion energy benefits all communities and does not repeat harmful mistakes of the past. President Biden was the first president to use the words ‘environmental justice’ in a State of the Union address. In doing so, he reaffirmed the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to put the interests of communities that are overburdened by pollution and underserved by their government at the center of our environmental policy. Today is a reminder that we must center them in our energy policy as well.” Chair Mallory added, “It’s exciting today to talk about a whole new industry that you and so many others are poised to create. And right at the beginning, the very first White House Fusion Summit asks the question, ‘How can we ensure all communities can benefit from the transformational change we hope to spur along today?’”
  • Don Beyer, U.S. Representative and Chair of the bipartisan Fusion Energy Caucus, spoke of the opportunity for fusion to advance energy independence with fuel derived from seawater, saying, “We always worry about peak oil, and peak coal, and peak natural gas, no one ever worries about peak seawater.”  Congressman Beyer added, “We can successfully forge a path to fusion energy. Fusion is the holy grail of clean energy technologies, and fusion has the potential to lift more citizens of the world out of poverty, than anything since the invention of fire.” Congressman Beyer discussed the legislative efforts for funding for fusion energy, citing the historic investments in the Science for the Future Act, funding for fusion secured in the Omnibus Spending Act, and forthcoming legislation to advance American competitiveness. Congressman Beyer added, “Cynics have often suggested that over the decades that we’ve spent just enough money on fusion that it never happens. This Administration has changed that, and we’re here to celebrate that and be thankful. I’m honored to be here with the pioneers of the next great leap for humanity, thank you for your leadership and vision.”
  • Chuck Fleischmann, U.S. Representative and Member of the bipartisan Fusion Energy Caucus, spoke of the unparalleled strength of the DOE national laboratory system and the opportunity fusion presents, saying, “I really think the future is in fusion, and we can’t overlook this.” Congressman Fleischmann spoke about the benefits of U.S. scientists participating in international fusion energy efforts leading to recent advances, saying, “ITER is already delivering practical experience with supply chains, regulations, and building integration systems for a reactor-scale fusion plant. This is invaluable for a path to commercial fusion energy. The first two central solenoid modules for the superconducting magnet at the heart of ITER were delivered to the ITER site in southern France, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory experts contributed to diagnostic technology behind the new fusion record at the Joint European Torus project. In 2021, this project was able to document the generation of 59 megajoules of sustained fusion power, more than doubling the previous record from 1997. The Material Plasma Exposure eXperiment (MPEX) under construction at Oak Ridge National Laboratory will deliver expanded material science capabilities and will be capable of producing fusion reactor-relevant plasma conditions for materials and components study.” Congressman Fleischmann added, “We need a bicameral, bipartisan–in fact, I would argue non-partisan–effort on fusion energy. We can work together to get this done.”

Researchers and Industry Leaders Outlined New Developments in Fusion 

Fusion energy – produced by combining atoms to create heavier ones – has long been recognized to have great potential as a safe, abundant, zero-carbon source of reliable electricity. Once developed, fusion could use earth-abundant materials such as lithium and hydrogen as fuel and create no long-lived radioactive waste. Fusion can also provide a combined source of thermal energy and electricity for hydrogen production, industrial heat, carbon capture, and desalination. 

Fusion could provide abundant, reliable, carbon-free energy to advance President Biden’s goal to get to net-zero emissions by 2050, while increasing energy security and enhancing America’s technological competitive edge. Commercial fusion energy technology has the potential to revolutionize the energy industry, helping combat the climate crisis while meeting the growing electricity needs of the U.S. and the world.  

Scott Hsu, DOE Lead Fusion Energy Coordinator, introduced the first panel, during which panelists offered their views on the status and benefits of fusion energy.

Kim Budil, Director of Lawrence Livermore Laboratory led the first panel about new developments in fusion, and said, “Fusion energy is the grand scientific challenge of our time, and it’s going to require significant innovation and real leadership to realize it. It has been a great year for fusion. We’ve had enormous breakthroughs in both magnetic fusion and inertial fusion that really make fusion realistic. For me, diversity is really essential to excellence in innovation. We need to build a workforce that reflects the communities that will ultimately benefit from this technology.” Dr. Budil also spoke about the remaining challenges, saying, “Even though there have been tremendous advances, there is work that remains, with significant R&D. It’s not a simple engineering problem to take this next step. So, bringing all these people together will be critically important.” She added, “These are the moments when the U.S. really thrives—there’s a really important problem, it requires over-the-horizon science and technology to come together now, it requires new types of partnerships that require everyone to pull together to drive this forward. It requires the government to come together across agencies to coordinate, to drive this innovation and to give us a real sense of urgency behind this problem. I am personally confident this community can meet this challenge.”

Steven Cowley, Director, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, spoke about the recent developments in fusion, saying “2021 was an amazing year for fusion. I don’t think we have had a year like this ever in the history of fusion. On August 8th, the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory reached 1.3 megajoules of output, with just under 2 megajoules going in. It was the first time where we got to see a fusion burn, when fusion energy provides the energy to keep the fuel at about 100 million degrees. And on the 21st of December, the Joint European Torus in the UK reached an average of over 10 million watts of fusion power for more than 5 seconds.” Dr. Cowley talked about how we got to a point where fusion appeared doable, and said, “We got here through a program at the Department of Energy that has sustained the scientific inquiry over decades to get to a point, which I think has only really happened in the last 10 years, where we can really predict the behavior of these systems and calculate it on those enormous computers that the Department of Energy runs.” Dr. Cowley added, “If we don’t choose to do fusion, somebody else will. There are very well-funded programs in China, in Europe, in Korea, doing marvelous things. We don’t want somebody else to be the Saudi Arabia of fusion. We want to be it.”

Kathy McCarthy, Associate Laboratory Director for Fusion and Fission Energy and Science, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, spoke about the necessity of basic science and international collaborations for fusion. Dr. McCarthy said, “Another one of the reasons why we’re ready to take this big step and move aggressively to commercial fusion is the knowledge that we’ve gained from preparing for ITER through starting the component fabrication, the delivery, the assembly of the different components in southern France.” Dr. McCarthy added, “What we’re learning from the component fabrication for ITER feeds directly into the design work that will go on for a pilot plant and assembly of the plant.” On the path to fusion energy, Dr. McCarthy described the need to address fusion technology issues: “For example, we are confident that we have the materials that could be used for a pilot plant, but what we do not have are the materials to make a practical commercial fusion power plant.”

Anne White, Chair of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT, stated, “The community has come together and spoken with an extraordinarily powerful voice to say we are ready to move fast for fusion. There was a comprehensive community planning process that led into a Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee that laid out a strategic plan, not just for what it takes to push fusion faster with technology, but to invest in the basic science and the basic research. This then fed into a National Academies report aptly titled, ‘Bringing Fusion to the U.S. Grid.’” Dr. White said, “From a technical perspective, what’s really neat about the private sector is that the designs they are thinking about are compact. And all these pieces coming together, all of the community coming together in these different ways, it’s a historical opportunity.” Dr. White added, “We’ve got to push fusion faster so we can impact climate change, and some ways of doing that are getting together more creatively and having more creative partnerships.”

Abdalla Darwish, Presidential Professor at Dillard University, spoke about the need for the fusion workforce to look like America. Dr. Darwish said, “One of the challenges in the fusion community is the lack of diversity. I work at Dillard University, it’s a small HBCU in Louisiana. We are actually one of the top programs graduating African Americans in physics in the country. We are number two in the country in producing African American female physics graduates.” Dr. Darwish added, “In the fusion community, we need everyone to participate. We need engineers, physicists, chemists, everybody.” On encouraging diversity, equity, and inclusion in the field, Dr. Darwish said, “Diversity is so important, we have to bring everyone to the table. Everyone has to be a part of this major task force. We have to start early, actually from K-12, and introduce this technology.”

 Mark Berry, Vice President, Research and Development at Southern Company, spoke about fusion from an electric utility perspective, saying, “The best year for fusion will be the year when you are providing fusion energy to customers–clean, safe, and reliable energy to customers, that is the grand vision.” Mr. Berry added, “I think now is the time to expand the public-private partnerships to include the end-users. We want to be part of the solution to bring this technology to bear. The sooner we do that, the better, so that we get a solution that is robust and fits our needs.” Mr. Berry added, “Energy companies have made net-zero 2050 commitments, and we recognize that we need transformational technologies to bring that future to bear. The 2050 energy company is likely to be very different than the 2020 energy company, and we are going to need a diverse set of technologies to solve our specific problems.”

Environmental and Energy Justice Leaders Outlined Priorities for Emerging Fusion Technology

In the second panel, the participants heard individual viewpoints on the need to have an inclusive conversation about the future of fusion energy from day one. Equity and inclusion are central to the Administration’s approach to energy innovation, and they are critical for the success of the fusion industry. 

Seth Hoedl, President, Chief Science Officer, & Co-Founder of the Post Road Foundation, moderated the second panel. He highlighted that  “Fusion researchers, developers, and advocates, just like other energy innovators, recognize that emerging energy sources like fusion have a responsibility to meet the needs of all Americans. They understand that there’s more to energy than technical viability, economic viability, and regulatory compliance. And they understand that the way in which energy technologies are deployed can have really profound societal implications. So, the fusion industry, to achieve these great impacts, will need to pay attention to public acceptance, energy justice, public engagement, and the just transition, and other aspects of energy ethics.”

Shalanda Baker, Secretarial Advisor on Equity and Deputy Director for Energy Justice at the Department of Energy, talked about the importance of energy justice and asked, “What if we’d done this at the launch of every major technological innovation that we’ve had in this country? How just would our society be? How would communities on the frontlines of climate change, the frontlines of environmental hazards and harms, how would their lives be different had we integrated equity & justice into the conversation day one?” On whether fusion technology can create restorative justice, Ms. Baker said, “The answer, as a lawyer, is that it depends. It only can create restorative justice if we’re actively engaging communities on day one. We’ve got to weave in diverse perspectives from the beginning. There are so many ways to heal communities, and it depends on that specific community, but we do need new jobs in those communities, and we need genuine authentic economic development.” Ms. Baker added, “This is really a socio-technical transition, that means we’re transforming our society as we’re bringing these new technologies online. Yes, we want physicists to be able to talk to people, but we also need to build interdisciplinary teams, and there are plenty of social scientists who know how to talk with people.”

Matthew McKinzie, Senior Director, Planning and Operations, Climate & Clean Energy Program at NRDC, spoke about how the fusion energy community can engage with the environmental community, and said, “When I think about fusion and climate change, I think about investing in new options for the future, and a lot has to be done over this century to address the threats of climate change. As an environmentalist, a touchstone for me was outlined in the National Academies study and is a three-step process. Where we are now, is a proof of principle, where the energy gain in the plasma is demonstrated to be greater than one. The next step would be a pilot plant for system energy gain greater than one. And then finally a first of a kind commercial plant.” Dr. McKinzie added, “It’s important to engage the environmental community in this design work, on the issues that are generic to fusion systems.” 

Amelia Chambliss, incoming graduate student at Columbia University and former Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory Intern, talked about how environmental issues motivate students to join the fusion community, and said, “Particularly Gen Z, we see a lot of folks who are very involved in anything they can do to help in the mitigation of climate change. The prospect for clean energy that fusion poses is really exciting to a lot of young people, and I think it’s definitely going to change our workforce very rapidly.” On encouraging new voices in fusion, Ms. Chambliss added, “It’s really critical that we introduce folks in underrepresented communities to fusion when they’re in undergrad or earlier. It’s also really critical that we empower students as much as we can when they do become interested in fusion. Researchers and CEOs need to talk to undergraduates and new hires and let them know that the fusion community will be so much stronger if they can be themselves as passionately as possible, while they pursue something that they really love.”  Ms. Chambliss discussed the importance of science communication and getting students excited about fusion. She will be starting a PhD program in fusion science this fall, but proposed that instead of describing fusion to young people in deep technical terms, we described it as, “These really crazy twisted coils that form a really strong magnetic field, and we’re using that to trap star stuff. And we are trying to use that star stuff to solve one of the greatest problems that humanity has ever faced—climate change. And I think if you say it the right way, who doesn’t want to do that for work every day?”

Stephanie Diem, Assistant Professor, Department of Engineering Physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, talked about meaningful engagement with society, and said, “In the field of physics and engineering, we have tended to take the approach of fixing problems without consent, and this has caused harm.” Dr. Diem added, “We researchers need to remember that communities are the experts in these cases, and we will always be the learners, and we need to empower communities to have ownership in their energy choices and start understanding their concerns now.” On broadening participation, Dr. Diem said, “Part of what we did to make the fusion field more equitable and provide more opportunities is on the USfusionenergy.org website, we house jobs from every institution that does fusion, and by jobs, I mean every kind of job in the fusion ecosystem that requires any level of training, from high school certificates, bachelor’s, to PhDs.” 

Amy Roma, Partner and Global Energy Practice Leader at Hogan Lovells, talked about the potential impact of fusion and said, “We’re looking at one of the biggest problem-solving challenges that society has ever faced, and that’s decarbonization and climate change. Currently the majority of power around the world is generated overwhelmingly from fossil fuels. At the same time where we have to decarbonize the existing power supply that we have, there are nearly a billion people in the world that don’t have access to electricity.” Ms. Roma added, “We have a huge opportunity here with fusion, if it can be clean, reliable, and affordable, to be a transformative energy source to combat climate change and provide clean energy to the nearly one billion people who don’t have access to electricity right now.” On the regulatory framework, Ms. Roma said, “The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is at the early stages of looking at the appropriate regulatory framework for fusion. And they’re approaching it the way they should be, which is looking at the technology and assessing the technology, and getting an appreciation for the risks that it introduces to see how they could right-size their regulatory framework.” 

U.S. Fusion Industry and Startup Leaders Outlined Their Views on the Next Steps for This Exciting Industry

In the third panel, we heard from the leaders of some of the companies that are making this vision a reality. It is clear that the U.S. has so much to gain from fusion energy. The U.S. has been investing in fusion research for nearly 70 years, and this moment presents a unique opportunity to reap the benefits. We heard there are many technical challenges remaining, but the critical building blocks for making a fusion power plant a reality appear to be in reach. The unparalleled technical abilities of the DOE national laboratory system and U.S. universities, coupled with the private start-up ecosystem, give an international advantage in the race for commercial fusion power. Of the more than 30 fusion companies in the world, two-thirds are based in the U.S., and the majority of private sector funding has gone to U.S. companies.

The market pull for commercial fusion is also growing rapidly. In 2021, the private sector invested over $2.5 billion in fusion technology development (with the overwhelming majority focused on U.S. fusion companies). Further, fusion companies are now building several large experimental facilities in the U.S., with the aspiration of demonstrating a proof-of-concept for several different types of fusion power plants before the end of the decade.

Carly Anderson, Principal Chemical Engineer and Partner at Prime Movers Lab, who moderated the panel, focused the discussion on three topics: knowing where the technology stands today, engaging in the community, and being proactive in diversifying the workforce. Dr. Anderson also stated “This has to be competitive. We’re here because there is a business opportunity here to really create the economy of the 21st century.” She added, “We’ve seen several really amazing examples in the last two decades, from the Human Genome Project to the NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program bringing down the cost of space launches.” Dr. Anderson talked about the importance of a milestone-based approach and how it was successful in these other industries, and how it can be successful for fusion.

Andrew Holland, Chief Executive Officer of the Fusion Industry Association, said, “Private sector jobs are not just diplomas, it’s hard hats. So, it’s important to remember that as the fusion industry builds things, and we will be building things a lot more, we have to think about the whole workforce in a broader sense.” Mr. Holland added, “93 percent of the fusion companies around the world expect to see commercial fusion in the 2030s or before. Right now, companies around the country and around the world are building proof-of-concept machines that will show that fusion works. We call this our ‘Kitty Hawk’ moment. Not the time when you sell the airplane, but the time when the airplane flies. And then, they’re going to rapidly move to making pilot plants. The 2030s will be the decade of broad fusion deployment.”

David Kirtley, Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Helion Energy, stated, “The problem we are solving is tremendously challenging and requires an enormous amount of innovation. For every decision we’re making, we need to bring together different ideas, people from different backgrounds, different educations, to solve those problems.” Dr. Kirtley added, “If we really want energy security, that means we need to be tackling the scale of fossil fuels and worldwide scale of energy justice. This means we need to be able to put these technologies everywhere. We will eventually need a gigawatt a day to come off the assembly line to solve this challenge. Fusion is capable of it. We know the physics is capable of it. We know the engineering is capable of it. So how do we aim our products, our governmental interactions, and our regulatory interactions, towards that goal?”

Bob Mumgaard, Chief Executive Officer of Commonwealth Fusion Systems, spoke about the future of fusion energy, saying, “We are building a greenfield fusion facility in a community. Concrete is going in right now in that community, where we started years ago talking to everybody in that community, and going out proactively, so they knew what this was about, what we wanted to bring into that community.” He added, “We’re at the cusp of seeing a whole new revolution. There’s $4 billion in fusion industry investments that is going to turn into people and things, in the next three years. And we need to do this right, to set this up for the long-term.” Dr. Mumgaard talked about what’s needed now, saying, “We have to be bold. We have to say there’s an objective to go to. That’s what this type of an event is really good at. In ten years, we should put pilot plants all over the country that incorporate the latest science and technology. We know how to do this because we’ve done this before, whether with the Manhattan Project or Apollo, or with what’s happened with commercial space recently or how we’ve done things in neuroscience.”

AJ Kantor, Chief of Staff for Zap Energy, talked about the opportunities in fusion, saying, “This is one of the few industries where you can really build megalithic companies, and we’re defining an entirely new industry here.” Ms. Kantor stated “Fusion has made promises before that have not been kept, so it’s our responsibility in the companies that are really in the game right now, to actually develop technology at a rate that’s commercially pertinent. So, we’re talking about boldness not just from the government, but boldness from companies who are setting technical goals and the resources we are putting behind meeting those goals.” Ms. Kantor also talked about how fusion isn’t just one type of technology, saying, “The approaches that we are all taking technically, all translate into different reactor types. That means different output rates, different sized reactors, different costs of reactors, and there’s a place for many different types of technologies on the grid to meet market needs. Most folks are thinking about fusion as an electricity source, but fusion is an energy source, it does more than generate electricity – it generates heat. So industrial heat may be a good place to enter the market in some places.”

Michl Binderbauer, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, TAE Technologies, stated, “We’re at an incredible point where the science and the technology are starting to meet up with the challenge. What the private sector is bringing is the ability to take that into the vision and direction we need to make a practical power plant.” Dr. Binderbauer added, “We’re not talking about building science projects, we’re talking about actually delivering energy. And that means you’re going to have to build applied things that will work reliably and cost-effectively.” Dr. Binderbauer added, “As we transition from research to making a power plant that runs, there’s an enormous wealth of technological lift that’s going to have to happen, including some things we probably don’t even know today. I believe we will all conquer this, but we need to work together.”

Greg Piefer, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of SHINE Technologies, talked about how fusion technology has opportunities in many different industries, saying “We’re looking at fusion technologies that have the highest value per reaction and highest value per neutron initially to build a sustainable company.” Dr. Piefer added, “We’ve been lucky to have been a part of the Department of Energy’s cooperative agreement program for many years, and we’re building what will be the largest medical isotope production facility in the world, which will use fusion as an underpinning. That cooperative agreement program has been really helpful because it’s a cost-matching program, and you’ve got to be able to convince private investors that it’s worth supporting. The program has provided us very good access to the national laboratories and the expertise they’ve developed in radio chemistry and nuclear physics, and the results are published in an open-source way, so that everyone can use them.”

Now Is the Time to Accelerate Fusion Energy

We stand at a juncture with an opportunity to reap the benefits of decades of investments. Fusion is a potential carbon-free, abundant source of clean energy that will bolster American leadership, strengthen energy security, and enable sustained energy independence. Two senior Administration leaders closed the summit with a call to action.

Sally Benson, Deputy Director for Energy at OSTP, provided remarks that captured the excitement of the event. Dr. Benson said, “With an accelerating climate crisis, and a war raging in Europe, made more complicated by global dependence on Russian oil and gas, we need innovation more than ever, to secure our energy future, and stop emission of greenhouse gases. The amount of fusion fuel that could fill a bathtub holds as much energy as all the oil Russia produces each day – about 10 million barrels. For more than 70 years, fusion scientists and engineers have worked to discover how fusion works and how to control it. As we heard today, we’re getting closer to the finish line – and we are ready to take the next bold steps. If we work together, we can sprint over the finish line. The benefits are great – a source of emission-free electricity that we can turn on and off when and where we need it. And a combined source of heat and power for clean industrial processing, making hydrogen, desalinating water, and things we can’t even imagine today. So, decades from now, let’s look back at this moment, in this room, when we acted boldly again, to make the impossible possible. We acted boldly together, to make fusion energy, sunlight in a bottle, a reality.”

Geraldine Richmond, Under Secretary for Science and Innovation at the Department of Energy, provided closing remarks and a call to action, saying, “I am truly inspired to see the President’s commitment to energy justice and diversity, equity, and inclusion presented in these discussions. As Secretary Granholm said, we have a unique opportunity to build a new energy industry that’s truly representative of America and fully engages the communities it’s destined to serve. And it’s so wonderful to hear from the future generation of fusion researchers.” Under Secretary Richmond talked about DOE’s plans to accelerate commercial fusion energy, saying, “DOE is establishing a new department-wide cross-cutting effort, that will integrate fusion RD&D across multiple offices including the Office of Science, ARPA-E, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and Nuclear Energy. Our efforts will be guided by the 2021 National Academies report ‘Bringing Fusion to the U.S. Grid,’ and draw from the incredible hard work of the fusion R&D community that culminated in the Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee’s long-range plan. We will continue to rely upon the top scientific minds at the DOE laboratories and universities as a source of ideas and innovation for the future. In our work with the private sector, we’ll take on new urgency so we can find the synergy between the exciting developments in the fusion industry and the unique capabilities supported by DOE.” Under Secretary Richmond closed by saying, “Fusion promises to be a clean source of energy for the future. It will enable us to address our climate crisis, ensure U.S. science and technology leadership, and benefit our economy and national security. And we at DOE are here to make this happen in close partnership with the research community, private industry, and other important stakeholders. And now, let’s get to work!” 

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