Need for Improvements in the Evaluation System for Unsolicited Nuclear Fusion Research Proposals

EMD-78-63: Published: Apr 26, 1978. Publicly Released: Apr 26, 1978.

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The system the Department of Energy (DOE) uses for assessing unsolicited proposals in the fusion area needs to be improved to ensure that all potential approaches to fusion power are objectively and consistently evaluated. DOE Division of Magnetic Fusion Energy (MFE), now the Office of Fusion Energy, uses varying procedures for reviewing unsolicited proposals. Proposals are sent to the national laboratories and other experts in the area for review or are reviewed by a panel of scientists selected for their competence in the area under consideration. MFE procedures for evaluating the unsolicited proposal from the Fusion Energy Corporation (FEC) were reviewed. Following review by a technically qualified panel, MFE declined to fund the FEC proposals for fusion research based on the lack of promise of the proposed concept and on MFE program priorities. Questions about the issues of similarity and identicalness between devices raised some queries about the effectiveness of the MFE evaluation system. Since the emphasis must be on formal and systematic evaluation procedures to ensure that reasonable and scientifically sound evaluations have been performed, the development of such procedures should consider the need for: (1) a determination that potential panelists do not have direct financial interests in proposals under review; (2) explicit provision for the expression of minority views in panel reports; and (3) an independent appeal process and administrative review outside the technical program. The Secretary of Energy should direct MFE to develop and issue standard review procedures and require that a determination be made of the adequacy of such procedures.

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