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1978 Proposal for fusion energy funding vs. actual
Last weekend, I bumped into Senator Markey at a charity event.  I asked him a question about Hydrogen Fusion research funding at MIT, which had been cut again because of sequestration. He commented that the Department of Energy does not want to fund fusion research. I also contacted with a small independent fusion research team based in New Jersey called Lawrenceville Plasma Physics. Their response after sharing the funding link was DOE has a policy of not funding fusion research.  MIT'™s research lab is top in the nation and can not get funding while small independent teams won't apply for grants.  The Department of Energy Portal doesn't list fusion! Doesn't this contradict the Obama administration"all of the above" focus on energy?

This is an incredible turn of events, and a travesty of science.  If we continued investing in fusion energy research during those prior decades, we could have had fusion by now. Policies of the conservative movement abort this technology from developing. The think tank American Security Project (ASP) has proposed a $30 Billion / 10 year project to achieve fusion energy and argues this would create whole new industries similar to the semiconductor revolution. The list of prior ASP Board Members includes Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice. Their white paper can be downloaded from here.  $30 Billion dollars over ten years would jumpstart this technology. Other countries may also decide to increase their investment, thereby accelerating the phasing out of carbon fuels.

The US Department of Energy used to be the global leader in fusion energy research.  Their budgets were slashed as a result of conservative policies going back to the Reagan administration. Fortunately the background for much of this history is still available through the Internet.  I would recommend the following material to be reviewed to better understand the history of fusion research.

  • In July 1976, The US Energy and Development Administration proposed a Program to develop Hydrogen Fusion Power through Magnetic Confinement.  This date was three years after the Arab oil embargo and marked the 200th anniversary of the signing of Declaration of Independence.  A copy of this report is available online. There is a diagram on page 10 of this report describing 4 different funding approaches and schedules described starting on page 7.  This graph shows actual funding has been below the level of effort to achieve fusion.
  • In Geneva, 1985, an agreement between President Reagan, General Secretary Gorbachev and other global leaders started an international program for fusion energy development which has become known as ITER and officially started in 2006 (over 20 years after the initial agreement!) construction started in 2007 and the program will continue beyond 2027 (another 20+ years).
    • ITER is currently under construction in France.  Some politicians express outrage that the budget for this program has grown from $5 billion in 2009 to $15 Billion today. There are constant issues with funding for this program, even though spreading the cost of this program over 20+ years results in a small yearly cost.  There was very little funding of research during the project's decades of planning.
    • For comparative funding: The fiasco known as the government shutdown in October, 2013 cost the economy $25 Billion in a matter of weeks.  This was the result of conservative policies and practices of the Tea Party movement.  This political group would also be adamantly against such funding.
    • Another comparative funding: The US Navy projects the cost of each aircraft carrier to be $26.6 Billion over their 50-year life.  We currently have10 Active aircraft carriers.
  • Over the following decades, various fusion research efforts in the US were shut down or unfunded for budget reasons.  Advanced science labs aren'™t supposed to shut down after only a few years of effort.
  • Fusion research has no longer been a focus for research in the United States, but there are programs that are progressing with limited budgets
  • ITER has a list of fusion programs worldwide, including 59 US facilities.  These groups and others compete for scraps from a paltry $3 million annual budget in fusion research, which should be around $3 billion.
  • Cuts in funding research at MIT'™s Alcator C-Mod, which supports the development of ITER, will impact the overall schedule for fusion power.
  • Sequester budget cuts have also impacted the University of Wisconsin-Madison HSV stellarator and other small research teams.
  • Other research for alternative approaches to fusion can't get funding, such as Lawrenceville Plasma Physics approach that generates electricity from a fusion reaction without the use of a steam turbine.
  • There is also a dark horse player out there.  Lockheed Martin has claimed in January 2013 that they will be able to achieve fusion within 5 years through one of their skunk works programs.  Searching through their corporate web site shows no additional information.

The production of oil, natural gas and coal limits the energy available for civilization. The socioeconomic powers that control or own these fuels keep their grasp on the spigot of energy for mankind. It is a carbon fuel colossus that powers our civilization and poisons our planet. These socioeconomic powers killed off fusion long before they started to deny Global Warming.  

The science and engineering required to achieve fusion energy is well known and understood. Check out this article on Slashdot. Refining small amounts of seawater, which is plentiful, creates the hydrogen isotope fuel. Hydrogen fusion energy is distributed power. The number fusion reactors in operation are the only limit for fusion energy available for mankind.  With more machines generating power through fusion, the less need for carbon fuels.  After the patents expire, the technology become royalty free and open source, reducing the overall cost even more.  Compare that to oil fields that can generate fuel, and revenue for 50 years or longer. The only reason why hydrogen fusion energy hasn't replaced carbon fuels is the lack of political commitment.  We need the political will to promote fusion research and shepherd a new generation of clean energy for mankind.  This could be a greater feat for mankind than President Kennedy'™s commitment to land on the moon.

My research on fusion was for a science fiction book I am writing called TimeArc, a cautionary tale of time travel, a compelling tale of global warming.  My background includes 30 years in High Tech. My first experiences with computers were paper tape and punch cards. I see many analogies between the transition from Mainframes to Distributed Computing and the transition from a carbon-based economy to one that relies on infrastructure based energy sources like solar, wind and fusion.  The oil industry acts like IBM when mainframes dominated the computer industry. Renewable energy has incredible potential, but fusion is an interplanetary power source.  With chemical power, mankind reached the moon.  With fusion power, we will reach the planets.

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