Biden administration holds fusion-focused White House summit with private, academic and government leaders

Published on March 23, 2022 by Chris Galford

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Assembling experts from national labs, academia, industry, and government agencies, the White House last week held the first-ever summit on fusion energy to discuss the source’s potential as a commercialized clean energy technology.

Fusion power is a long-held dream in the energy world – a proposed form of generation that utilizes the heat from nuclear fusion reactions to generate electricity. Unlike the abundant nuclear fission form, which splits the nucleus of an atom into two or more smaller nuclei, fusion combines them into a heavier nucleus while releasing energy. In this way, mankind would model energy generation on that of stars.

“We are deeply mindful of the long arc of history, how government can come together and make long-term plays that have tremendous benefit for the country down the line; as the President says we can do big things,” Alondra Nelson, head of the Office of Science Technology Policy (OSTP), said. OSTP ran the Developing a Bold Decadal Vision for Commercial Fusion Energy alongside the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). “I hope we can all be back here together in a decade to celebrate the star power we’ve ignited with these conversations today.”

At this summit, U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm pledged to provide up to $50 million of support for scientists conducting experimental research into fusion energy within the United States. Granholm also appointed Scott Hsu, the program director at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), to a new position as lead fusion coordinator for the DOE.

A major advantage of fusion would be its inherently carbonless nature, a boon for fighting climate change. However, experts noted that it would take a combined effort across the spectrum of industry, government, and academia, to make a reality. To that end, panelists at the summit agreed that the U.S. was ready to develop a fusion energy pilot plant and push forward.

“I’m glad to be here at the launch of what could be another American clean energy game-changer: fusion energy,” Gina McCarthy, the national climate advisor, said. “Fusion energy could provide a virtually limitless source of clean electricity available when and where it’s needed. Getting fusion energy to viability could be a critical tool to reducing emissions while meeting our clean energy needs, and of course, we could create really good jobs in the process.”

Other topics addressed at the summit included discussions of how fusion energy would affect the underprivileged and underserved and how its development should work to help and include them, education, and how to accelerate commercial efforts.