AN ASSESSMENT OF THE PROSPECTS FOR
INERTIAL FUSION ENERGY
Committee on the Prospects for Inertial Confinement Fusion Energy Systems
Board on Physics and Astronomy
Board on Energy and Environmental Systems
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
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NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
Support for this project was provided by Contract 10NA001274 between the National Academy of Sciences and the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the agencies that provided support for the project.
Cover: Ultraviolet laser beams aim at a fuel pellet before they implode it in the OMEGA laser target chamber. © Roger Ressmeyer/CORBIS
International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-27081-6
International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-27081-2
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THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Charles M. Vest is president of the National Academy of Engineering.
The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine.
The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone and Dr. Charles M. Vest are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council.
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COMMITTEE ON THE PROSPECTS FOR INERTIAL CONFINEMENT FUSION ENERGY SYSTEMS
RONALD C. DAVIDSON, Princeton University, Co-Chair
GERALD L. KULCINSKI, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Co-Chair
CHARLES BAKER, University of California at San Diego (retired)
ROGER BANGERTER, E.O. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (retired)
RICCARDO BETTI, University of Rochester
JAN BEYEA, Consulting in the Public Interest (CiPI)
ROBERT L. BYER, Stanford University
FRANKLIN CHANG-DIAZ, Ad Astra Rocket Company
STEVEN C. COWLEY, United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority
RICHARD L. GARWIN, IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center
DAVID A. HAMMER, Cornell University
JOSEPH S. HEZIR, EOP Group, Inc.
KATHRYN McCARTHY, Idaho National Laboratory
LAWRENCE T. PAPAY, PQR, LLC
KEN SCHULTZ, General Atomics (retired)
ANDREW M. SESSLER, E.O. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
JOHN SHEFFIELD, University of Tennessee at Knoxville
THOMAS A. TOMBRELLO, JR., California Institute of Technology
DENNIS G. WHYTE, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
JONATHAN S. WURTELE, University of California at Berkeley
ROSA YANG, Electric Power Research Institute, Inc.
MALCOLM McGEOCH, Consultant, PLEX, LLC
DAVID LANG, Program Officer, Board on Physics and Astronomy, Study Director
GREG EYRING, Senior Program Officer, Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences
TERI THOROWGOOD, Administrative Coordinator, Board on Physics and Astronomy
JONATHAN YANGER, Senior Project Assistant, Board on Energy and Environmental Systems
ERIN BOYD, Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellow (January-April 2011)
SARAH NELSON-WILK, Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellow (January-April 2012)
JAMES LANCASTER, Director, Board on Physics and Astronomy
JAMES ZUCCHETTO, Director, Board on Energy and Environmental Systems
BOARD ON PHYSICS AND ASTRONOMY
PHILIP H. BUCKSBAUM, Stanford University, Chair
DEBRA M. ELMEGREEN, Vassar College, Vice Chair
RICCARDO BETTI, University of Rochester
ADAM S. BURROWS, Princeton University
TODD DITMIRE, University of Texas
NATHANIEL J. FISCH, Princeton University
PAUL FLEURY, Yale University
S. JAMES GATES, University of Maryland
LAURA H. GREENE, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
MARTHA P. HAYNES, Cornell University
MARK B. KETCHEN, IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center
MONICA OLVERA de la CRUZ, Northwestern University
PAUL SCHECHTER, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
BORIS SHRAIMAN, Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics
MICHAEL S. TURNER, University of Chicago
ELLEN D. WILLIAMS, BP International
MICHAEL WITHERELL, University of California at Santa Barbara
JAMES LANCASTER, Director
DONALD C. SHAPERO, Senior Scholar
DAVID LANG, Program Officer
CARYN JOY KNUTSEN, Associate Program Officer
TERI THOROWGOOD, Administrative Coordinator
BETH DOLAN, Financial Associate
BOARD ON ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENTAL SYSTEMS
ANDREW BROWN, JR., Delphi Corporation, Chair
WILLIAM BANHOLZER, The Dow Chemical Company
MARILYN BROWN, Georgia Institute of Technology
WILLIAM CAVANAUGH, Progress Energy (retired), Raleigh, North Carolina
PAUL A. DeCOTIS, Long Island Power Authority
CHRISTINE EHLIG-ECONOMIDES, Texas A&M University, College Station
SHERRI GOODMAN, CNA, Alexandria, Virginia
NARAIN HINGORANI, Consultant, San Mateo, California
ROBERT J. HUGGETT, College of William and Mary (retired), Seaford, Virginia
DEBBIE A. NIEMEIER, University of California at Davis
DANIEL NOCERA, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
MICHAEL OPPENHEIMER, Princeton University
DAN REICHER, Stanford University
BERNARD ROBERTSON, DaimlerChrysler Corporation (retired), Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
GARY ROGERS, FEV, Inc., Auburn Hills, Michigan
ALISON SILVERSTEIN, Consultant, Pflugerville, Texas
MARK THIEMENS, University of California at San Diego
RICHARD WHITE, Oppenheimer & Company, New York
JAMES J. ZUCCHETTO, Director
DANA CAINES, Financial Associate
DAVID COOKE, Associate Program Officer
ALAN CRANE, Senior Scientist
JOHN HOLMES, Senior Program Officer/Associate Director
LaNITA JONES, Administrative Coordinator
ALICE WILLIAMS, Senior Project Assistant
JONATHAN YANGER, Senior Project Assistant
Recent scientific and technological progress in inertial confinement fusion (ICF), together with the National Ignition Campaign (NIC) to achieve the important milestone of ignition on the National Ignition Facility (NIF), motivated the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of the Under Secretary for Science to request that the National Research Council (NRC) undertake a study to assess the prospects for inertial fusion energy (IFE) and provide advice on the preparation of a research and development (R&D) roadmap leading to an IFE demonstration plant. The statement of task for the full NRC study reads as follows:
The Committee will prepare a report that will:
- Assess the prospects for generating power using inertial confinement fusion;
- Identify scientific and engineering challenges, cost targets, and R&D objectives associated with developing an IFE demonstration plant; and
- Advise the U.S. Department of Energy on its development of an R&D roadmap aimed at creating a conceptual design for an inertial fusion energy demonstration plant.
In response to this request, the NRC established the Committee on the Prospects for Inertial Confinement Fusion Energy Systems. As part of the study, the sponsor also requested that the NRC provide an interim report to assist it in formulating its budget request for future budget cycles (see Appendix B). The interim report had a limited scope and was released in March 2012.1
1 National Research Council, 2012. Interim Report—Status of the Study “An Assessment of the Prospects for Inertial Fusion Energy,” The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C. Available at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13371.
The committee’s final report represents the consensus of the committee after six meetings (see Appendix C for the meeting agendas). The first four meetings were concerned mainly with information gathering through presentations, while the final two meetings focused on carrying out a detailed analysis of the many important topics needed to complete the committee’s assessment.
This report describes and assesses the current status of inertial fusion energy research in the United States, identifies the scientific and engineering challenges associated with developing inertial confinement fusion as an energy source, compares the various technical approaches, and, finally, provides guidance on an R&D roadmap at the conceptual level for a national program aimed at the design and construction of an inertial fusion energy demonstration plant, including approximate estimates, where possible, of the funding required at each stage. At the outset of the study, the committee decided that the fusion-fission hybrid concept was outside the scope of the study. While they are certainly interesting subjects of study, comparisons of inertial fusion energy to magnetic fusion energy or any other potential or available energy technologies (such as wind or nuclear fission) were also outside the committee’s purview.
Although the committee carried out its work in an unclassified environment, it was recognized that some of the research relevant to the prospects for inertial fusion energy was conducted under the auspices of the nation’s nuclear weapons program and has been classified. Therefore, the NRC established the separate Panel on the Assessment of Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF) Targets to explore the extent to which past and ongoing classified research affects the prospects for practical inertial fusion energy systems. The panel was also tasked with analyzing the nuclear proliferation risks associated with IFE; although that analysis was not available for inclusion in the interim report, the committee reviewed the panel’s principal conclusions and recommendations on proliferation, and these are included in this final report of the committee.
The target physics panel exchanged unclassified information informally with the committee in the course of the study process, and the committee was aware of the panel’s conclusions and recommendations as they evolved.
The panel produced both a classified and an unclassified report; the latter was timed so as to be available to inform this committee’s final report; the Summary of the panel’s unclassified report (prepublication version) is included as Appendix H. The statement of task for the panel is given in Appendix B and the panel’s meeting agendas appear in Appendix C. The panel’s unclassified report, Assessment of Inertial Confinement Fusion Targets, is being released simultaneously with this, the committee’s final report.
Over the course of the study, the inertial confinement fusion community provided detailed information on the current status and potential prospects for all aspects of IFE. This information and the associated interactions with the
community were essential to the committee’s work. We, as co-chairs of the committee, recognize the enormous amount of time and effort involved in this contribution and thank the community for its extensive input and help with its task. Finally, we are particularly grateful to the members of this committee who worked so diligently over nearly 2 years to produce this report.
Finally, we would like to express our deep appreciation to the staff at the NRC, particularly to David Lang and Greg Eyring, for their highly professional contributions at every stage of the committee’s deliberations and preparation of the report. We are truly indebted to them for their insights and extraordinary contributions throughout the entire process.
Ronald C. Davidson, Co-Chair
Gerald L. Kulcinski, Co-Chair
Committee on the Prospects for Inertial
Confinement Fusion Energy Systems
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Acknowledgment of Reviewers
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the Report Review Committee of the National Research Council (NRC). The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this report:
Douglas M. Chapin, MPR Associates;
Philip Clark, GPU Nuclear Corporation (retired);
Michael I. Corradini, University of Wisconsin;
Todd Ditmire, University of Texas at Austin;
R. Paul Drake, University of Michigan;
Douglas Eardley, University of California at Santa Barbara;
Arjun Makhijani, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research;
Gregory Moses, University of Wisconsin;
Burton Richter, Stanford University;
Robert H. Socolow, Princeton University;
Frank N. von Hippel, Princeton University; and
Steven Zinkle, Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations, nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Louis J. Lanzerotti, New Jersey Institute of Technology. Appointed by the NRC, he was responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.