National Academies Press: OpenBook

Bringing Fusion to the U.S. Grid (2021)

Chapter: 1 Introduction

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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Bringing Fusion to the U.S. Grid. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25991.
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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Bringing Fusion to the U.S. Grid. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25991.
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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Bringing Fusion to the U.S. Grid. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25991.
Page 5
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Bringing Fusion to the U.S. Grid. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25991.
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1 Introduction The 2019 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report of the Committee on a Strategic Plan for U.S. Burning Plasma Research, Final Report of the Committee on a Strategic Plan for U.S. Burning Plasma Research 1 (hereafter the “Burning Plasma report”), presented guidance on a strategic plan for a U.S. research program of burning plasma science and technology directed toward realizing economical fusion energy. While it recognized and described significant scientific and engineering challenges, that report concluded that the knowledge developed through decades of fusion research is now sufficiently advanced to propose a path to demonstrate fusion-generated electricity within the upcoming decades. It described a strategic plan for fusion research to guide the implementation of its two main recommendations: • First, the United States should remain an ITER partner as the most cost-effective way to gain experience with a burning plasma at the scale of a power plant. • Second, the United States should start a national program of accompanying research and technology leading to the construction of a compact pilot plant that produces electricity from fusion at the lowest possible capital cost. (p. 1) The Burning Plasma report was a major input to the development of a long-range strategic plan for the Department of Energy (DOE) Fusion Energy Sciences (FES) Program. The Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (FESAC) was charged to undertake a new long-range strategic planning activity in November 2018. The “strategic planning activity—to encompass the entire FES research portfolio (namely, burning plasma science and discovery science)—should identify and prioritize the research required to advance both the scientific foundation needed to develop a fusion energy source, as well as the broader FES mission to steward plasma science.” 2 A two-phase process, similar to that used by both the High Energy Physics program and the Nuclear Physics program within the Office of Science, was conducted. In the first phase, a very broad community planning process was conducted by the APS- DPP, which was completed in March 2020. 3 This planning process encompassed a much broader range of plasma physics and fusion topics than considered by the Burning Plasma committee. An underlying and recurrent theme of the section on fusion science and technology, which addressed the burning plasma science topics, was how the research would impact the development of a pilot plant. In the section regarding fusion science and technology, the community stated that its mission is to “establish the basis for the commercialization of fusion energy in the United States by developing the innovative science and technology needed to accelerate the construction of a fusion pilot plant at low capital cost.” A FESAC panel headed by Troy Carter is completing the second phase of the planning process and will issue their recommendations on the priorities for an optimized FES program over the next 10 years (FY 2022-2031) under different budget scenarios. The FESAC report was not available to this committee prior to submitting its report for review. In parallel with the FESAC long-range strategic planning process focused on the next decade, DOE asked the National Academies to assemble a committee to provide guidance to DOE and others that is aligned with the objectives of constructing a pilot plant in the United States that produces electricity PREPUBLICATION COPY – SUBJECT TO FURTHER EDITORIAL CORRECTION 1-1

from fusion at the lowest possible capital cost. In this report, the Committee on the Key Goals and Innovation Needed for a U.S. Fusion Pilot Plant is to address the following: • In developing and carrying out a plan for building a Pilot Plant, key goals need to be established for all critical aspects of the Pilot Plant. Identify those key goals, independent of confinement concept, which a Pilot Plant must demonstrate during each of its anticipated phases of operation. • List the principal innovations needed for the private sector to address, perhaps in concert with efforts by DOE, to meet the key goals identified in the first bullet. In doing this task, the committee was encouraged “to seek input from potential ‘future owners’ of power plants, such as electric utility companies and potential manufacturers of fusion power plant components, to broadly characterize the energy market for fusion and to provide input on what they would look for in a fusion pilot plant and how such plants can contribute to national energy needs.” The full statement of task is given in Appendix A. A fusion pilot plant producing net electricity should lead to a commercially viable fusion power plant by providing the information needed by utilities to design, build, license and operate future plants. A pilot plant is not meant to demonstrate the economic viability of the commercial plant but is meant to test the technologies employed and demonstrate high-grade heat extraction to produce electricity, availability for an extended period, and fuel cycle and tritium self-sufficiency; explore techniques to reduce construction and operations cost; demonstrate safe and reliable operations; and provide training to potential operators of future commercial plants. A pilot plant is not expected to operate for the full lifecycle of a first-of-a-kind power plant and thus there will be residual risks that will have to be considered. Nonetheless, the pilot plant will provide the basis for design and cost projections of a commercial power plant, which will enable the marketplace to establish the role of fusion in meeting the energy needs of the nation. While this charge closely relates to and builds on the work by the Burning Plasma committee and the APS-DPP community planning process, there are significant differences in scope and emphasis. The following introduction provides a summary of the committee’s approach to its task and an outline and guide to the overall structure of this final report, including the committee’s findings and recommendations. COMMITTEE APPROACH This study was limited to 8 months, which is much shorter than the Burning Plasma study. In practice, 3 months elapsed from the first meeting of the committee to the submission of the draft for review. The duration of the study had several implications. In developing a plan for building a pilot plant, the committee relied primarily on past studies with limited but very valuable input from experts. Previous technical studies, as well as the results from the Burning Plasma report and the APS-DPP community planning report, provided significant contributions. What differentiated this study—overseen by the Board on Physics and Astronomy but in collaboration with additional boards with broader scope—was the emphasis on soliciting input from utilities, developers of fusion systems, and manufacturers of components for fusion systems as well as other community groups with a role in the development of a pilot plant. There was a previous report by members of the U.S. fusion community and utility members 4 that was written more than 20 years ago. Since then, significant changes in the electricity generation marketplace have occurred. Thus, it was necessary to review and update as appropriate the conclusions from the previous studies and take into account more recent work, including related work in fission. The status and potential evolution of the electricity generation marketplace have many ramifications that need to be considered to properly plan, build, and operate a fusion pilot plant, ranging from new ways that fusion can contribute to including cost targets. Prior studies and inputs to the PREPUBLICATION COPY – SUBJECT TO FURTHER EDITORIAL CORRECTION 1-2

committee were important in understanding this evolving landscape and the uncertainty in forecasting the future. The emphasis on cost is an important consideration, both in the development of a pilot plant as noted by the Burning Plasma report and in the statement of task, but also in the eventual impact on national energy needs. Another significant change from 20 years ago is the role of private industry seeking to develop fusion energy and companies interested in building components for fusion. These companies have the potential to play a major role in the development of fusion energy. Thus, understanding their potential role was an important input. In addition, the role of electric utilities has changed in the last 20 years with some still vertically integrated but many having their generation assets moved to another entity due to unbundling as the industry deregulated. This has impacted who can and will be able to participate in a pilot plant or the first-of-a-kind commercial plant. The Burning Plasma report and the APS-DPP community planning process identified many scientific and technical issues that need to be addressed to both enable the construction of a fusion pilot plant and to reduce its cost. This committee has relied heavily on those reports for the technical innovations required to develop a pilot plant. Although this recent, extensive body of work was very valuable, it did not cover all of the possible fusion concepts. Burning Plasma focused on magnetic fusion energy but did not address magneto-inertial concepts or inertial fusion energy (IFE). A 2013 report on the prospects for IFE also provided input. 5 The scope of the present report will be discussed further below. The development of a low-cost fusion pilot plant will require not only scientific and technical innovation but also innovation in public policy areas to facilitate the licensing of a fusion pilot plant and the structuring of public-private partnerships to pursue this goal. Other parallel activities are underway that bear on these issues. On October 6, 2020, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a public meeting regarding licensing, 6 and the Fusion Industries Association has written a report on this topic. 7 The public meeting and report provided background information to the committee. Also, in April 2020, DOE announced a request for information to explore cost share partnership programs where the funding is provided directly to the private-sector companies under a performance-based-milestone-driven approach. 8 The committee received the responses to this announcement, which provided background information. The implication of adhering to the short timeline in the statement of task has required the committee to limit the scope of the report. The key goals for a pilot plant are broadly applicable across most fusion concepts, although strongly informed by the leading fusion concept, a deuterium-tritium fueled tokamak. Some of the goals would change with a different fuel such as hydrogen and boron. While principal changes will be noted due to the choice of fuel, this report more extensively considers deuterium-tritium fuel as the baseline. The range of fusion concepts spans a broad range from magnetic confinement to magneto-inertial to inertial confinement fusion. Some scientific and technical innovations required to construct a fusion pilot plant are largely concept independent; however, other needed innovations depend on the concept and the level of maturity of the technical and scientific basis. In considering how to allocate limited time on this topic, the proximity in terms of fusion parameter performance and pulse duration relative to that needed for a commercial power plant guided the choice to emphasize the tokamak concept for this report to illustrate the types of innovations needed. Alternatives to the tokamak concept are being developed by both the private and public sector. The proponents of these have identified the potential for breakthrough results that would lead to a more economical fusion reactor. Future research and discoveries may conclude that other concepts are indeed preferrable, but the committee could not evaluate the different concepts or assess the implications of what innovations are needed for their success within the limited timeline. This is broadly consistent with the statement of work that the report should be independent of concept. STRUCTURE OF THE REPORT The following five chapters describe the committee’s guidance for a plan leading to the construction of a fusion pilot plant: PREPUBLICATION COPY – SUBJECT TO FURTHER EDITORIAL CORRECTION 1-3

• Chapter 2 describes the role of the pilot plant in the pathway to commercialization. As part of commercialization, there will be a first-of-a-kind power plant, which will operate after the pilot plant and needs to both be technically successful and address the needs of the marketplace. Building a pilot plant at the lowest possible cost requires understanding what issues need to be resolved in support of utility owners’ decision making. Understanding the utility owners’ perspective was an important input in defining the key goals of a pilot plant. • Chapter 3 describes the goals of a fusion pilot plant. A distinguishing feature of a pilot plant is that it is an integrated solution to generate net electricity that needs to be accomplished in the context of the pathway to commercialization, as discussed in Chapter 2. Thus, many key goals extend beyond integrated performance, including areas such as materials, fuel supply, reliability and availability, environmental and safety, licensing, and economic considerations. The economic considerations include not only the cost of the pilot plant but also the pathway for an energy source that meets the nation’s needs. • Chapter 4 describes the critical innovations needed to address the key goals. The innovations will address a broad range of scientific and technical issues. This chapter also discusses the roles of the public and private sectors and models for public-private partnership to accelerate the development of fusion. • Chapter 5 describes a strategy and roadmap for a pilot plant to address the goals in Chapter 3 and outlines an integrated plan for building a pilot plant. NOTES 1. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2019. Final Report of the Committee on a Strategic Plan for U.S. Burning Plasma Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. 2. Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee, charge letter, /media/fes/fesac/pdf/2018/FESAC_Charge_Letter_on_Strategic_Planning.pdf?la=en&hash=839F700086 05FAE3D1BEAE5B6AE8973292FFA5DC. 3. “A Community Plan for Fusion Energy and Discovery Science,” 4. J. Kaslow, M. Brown, R. Hirsch, R. Izzo, J. McCann, D. McCloud, B. Muston, A. Peterson, Jr., S. Rosen, T. Schneider, P. Skrgic, H and B. Snow. 1994. Criteria for Practical Fusion Power Systems: Report from the EPRI Fusion Panel. Journal of Fusion Energy 13(2-3). 5. National Research Council. 2013. An Assessment of the Prospects for Inertial Fusion Energy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. 6. Fusion Industry Association, 2020. “DOE/NRC/FIA Public Forum on a Regulatory Framework for Fusion,” press release, updated October 2, fusion. 7. Fusion Industries Association. Igniting the Fusion Revolution in America. 8. “Cost-Sharing Partnerships With the Private Sector in Fusion Energy” private-sector-in-fusion-energy. PREPUBLICATION COPY – SUBJECT TO FURTHER EDITORIAL CORRECTION 1-4

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Fusion energy offers the prospect of addressing the nation's energy needs and contributing to the transition to a low-carbon emission electrical generation infrastructure. Technology and research results from U.S. investments in the major fusion burning plasma experiment known as ITER, coupled with a strong foundation of research funded by the Department of Energy (DOE), position the United States to begin planning for its first fusion pilot plant. Strong interest from the private sector is an additional motivating factor, as the process of decarbonizing and modernizing the nation's electric infrastructure accelerates and companies seek to lead the way.

At the request of DOE, Bringing Fusion to the U.S. Grid builds upon the work of the 2019 report Final Report of the Committee on a Strategic Plan for U.S. Burning Plasma Research to identify the key goals and innovations - independent of confinement concept - that are needed to support the development of a U.S. fusion pilot plant that can serve as a model for producing electricity at the lowest possible capital cost.

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