President Biden to consider bill expediting development of commercial fusion energy

Published on June 25, 2024 by Chris Galford

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The Fusion Energy Act (S.4151) crossed its final legislative hurdle this week with the approval of the Senate, teeing it up for a possible signature from President Joe Biden this week that would affect federal regulations and the development of commercial fusion energy at large.

“Fusion energy holds the potential to power the entire country with a sustainable supply of nearly unlimited, reliable, and carbon-free electricity,” U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA), lead sponsor of the bill, said. “The breakthrough of fusion ignition at California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is a key step toward cementing U.S. leadership in fusion energy, and Congress took another crucial step forward by establishing clear regulatory authority to scale up commercial American fusion energy facilities and incentivize fusion investments.”

Backed by cosponsors U.S. Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Todd Young (R-IN), and Patty Murray (D-WA), Padilla’s bill ultimately passed as part of the Fire Grants and Safety Act. Therein, stipulations were made to streamline the creation of federal regulations supporting the development of commercial fusion facilities, chiefly through codification of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) regulatory authority over them.

Two years ago, California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) became the first lab to achieve fusion ignition, which was a milestone moment for the industry. Fusion has been an aspirational scientific goal for decades, given its ability to provide clean electricity without emissions or radioactive waste – the latter the primary downside of approaches based on fission ignition.

Subsequently, in April 2023, the NRC voted to separate the regulatory frameworks of fusion and fission energy to create a regulatory framework specific to fusion energy. The Fusion Energy Act doubled down on that, backing the NRC and requiring it to study and report to Congress within one year regarding licensing commercial fusion machines.

“Fusion has the potential to play a tremendously important role in our clean energy future as a source of cheap and abundant carbon-free energy, and this bill will help ensure the United States maintains our leadership on this promising technology,” Murray said.

Meanwhile, the Fire Grants and Safety Act, which this bill was tucked into, will authorize funding for the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant program and the Assistance to Firefighters Grants program through FY 2030. It also will keep the United States Fire Administration going.