Letter: Breakevens and breakthroughs: What fusion means for our energy future
Reps. Krishnamoorth and Kelly Armstrong write, "This nuclear fusion breakthrough not only brings us one step closer to reproducing the power of the sun in a laboratory, but it also helps us to guarantee American energy independence."
Just as 2022 ended, scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory achieved a breakthrough in the development of energy technology. By creating a controlled nuclear fusion reaction that generated more energy than it used—what’s known as a breakeven event—these researchers demonstrated the potential of fusion as a groundbreaking power source. This nuclear fusion breakthrough not only brings us one step closer to reproducing the power of the sun in a laboratory, but it also helps us to guarantee American energy independence.
If scientists can deploy this fusion reaction economically and on a large scale, it would offer a new reliable energy source. Fusion fuels could run a power plant for years with virtually no emissions. The Energy Information Administration predicts energy use will increase globally by nearly 50% by 2050, so as we look to our energy needs for the century ahead, fusion helps us toward a more prosperous future. This is a development that Democrats and Republicans like us can both applaud.
To be clear, much more progress must be made. The recent technological development is a historic achievement, but it will take significant efforts to improve the efficiency of fusion energy to the point where it can be produced economically on a commercial scale. However, this advancement proves the viability for producing such a reaction, which puts us one step closer to commercial fusion and an abundant power source. In the meantime, we must do all we can to invest in existing infrastructure and support projects that will lead to key breakthroughs like this one.
At present, there are still major challenges in both closing the scientific gap between concept and application, as well as ultimately incorporating fusion plants into our existing powers systems. This will require effectively aligning public and private interests to prioritize research and development approaches, while also eliminating regulatory uncertainties that could delay our ability to embrace fusion power and benefit from it. Already there are public-private partnerships in the fusion space that can serve as models. One example is the Innovation Network for Fusion Energy, a Department of Energy initiative which helps private sector partners gain access to financial and technical resources needed to develop cost-effective fusion energy technologies. Furthermore, we need to extend these collaborations internationally, combining our investments, resources, and breakthroughs with those of our allies and security partners abroad.
We also need to make more foundational investments in our economic and energy infrastructure that will yield real rewards, including in the use of conventional energy sources. The demands of fusion technology and systems built around it will require a new, highly-skilled workforce of both scientists and technicians. Those same investments in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and skills-based education necessary to prepare students for roles in fusion energy will also prepare them to contribute across the economy.
The potential of fusion energy is exciting as we further expand our domestically produced energy landscape. If we remain committed to maintaining our investment and commitment to safe nuclear technology and infrastructure, there is no telling what further breakthroughs we can achieve together.
Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., and Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-ND, serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.
This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.