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Burning Plasma: Bringing a Star to Earth
These program elements are indeed the three goals of the U.S. fusion program as outlined by the OFES in 1996. The committee affirms these elements as substantive and appropriate for a strategically balanced program.
The merit of any of the U.S. fusion science program activities now under way or envisioned does not mean that every activity can or even should be supported unconditionally. Any funding scenario that can be reasonably expected will necessitate deciding the relative priority of activities to pursue at any given time. The choice of which opportunities to pursue—and which program activities not to pursue—must be determined by the usual federal government process, advised by the fusion community and cognizant of international fusion efforts.
A rigorous evaluation of the U.S. fusion program priorities should be undertaken by the OFES with broad-based input from the fusion community. This priority-setting process should be guided by the objective of maintaining a balanced program, as discussed in this report, and it should result in a clear, ordered list of activities to be pursued. Such a list would identify those areas of science and technology that either have the greatest uncertainty or that promise the greatest impact for the future of the fusion program.
As with the planning done for other areas of science such as for high-energy physics, the fusion community should identify and prioritize the critical scientific and technology questions to address in concentrated, extended campaigns. A prioritized listing of those campaigns, with a clear and developed rationale for their importance, would be very helpful in generating support for their pursuit, while also requiring the development of a clear decision-making process in the fusion research community.
There are many unknowns as the fusion community embarks on this great scientific challenge. The elements required for the long-term health and vitality of this part of the U.S. research enterprise are not entirely clear, but this report strives to provide guidance for balancing the U.S. fusion program through an elucidation of the key scientific, technical, and programmatic issues that need to be addressed in the coming years as it enters the burning plasma era. What is clear is that whatever strategy is adopted, it should be flexible, innovative, and inclusive in achieving the required balance for success.
Having concluded that the United States is ready to take the next critical step in fusion research, the committee recommends the implementation of a burning plasma experiment through participation in the ITER program as part of a strategically balanced U.S. fusion program. The opportunity for advancing the science of fusion energy has never been greater or more compelling, and the fusion community has never been so ready to take this step.