The United States is pursuing two paths to fusion energy--magnetic and inertial. On November 21, 2006, the United States signed an agreement with five countries and the European Union to build and operate the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in Cadarache, France, to demonstrate the feasibility of magnetic fusion energy. The United States also built and operates facilities to pursue inertial fusion energy research. This report discusses (1) U.S. contributions to ITER and the challenges, if any, in managing this international fusion program and (2) the Department of Energy's (DOE) management of alternative fusion research activities, including National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) initiatives. In performing this work, GAO analyzed budget documents, briefings, and reports that focused on research and funding priorities for the fusion program. GAO also met with officials from DOE, NNSA, and the ITER Organization in France.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Energy||To advance U.S. efforts to develop alternative fusion energy sources, the Secretary of Energy should direct OFES and NNSA to develop a coordinated research plan to coordinate U.S. inertial fusion research activities and identify roles and responsibilities for each program as well as detailed research and development tasks, budget needs, and time frames for advancing inertial fusion research.|
|Department of Energy||To advance U.S. efforts to develop alternative fusion energy sources, the Secretary of Energy should direct NNSA to guarantee access to the National Ignition Facility (NIF), once it becomes operational, to scientists conducting inertial fusion energy experiments, and work with DOE to determine how to share the costs, operational time, and results of NIF to explore inertial fusion as a viable energy source.|
|Department of Energy||To advance U.S. efforts to develop alternative fusion energy sources, the Secretary of Energy should direct OFES to charge DOE's fusion energy advisory committee with independently assessing whether current funding levels between ITER- and tokamak-related research and innovative magnetic fusion research strike the right balance to meet research objectives and advance both areas of research, and, if the current share of funding is not adequate, to recommend appropriate changes.|
|Department of Energy||To address OFES's human capital challenges, the Secretary of Energy should direct OFES to develop a strategy to hire, train, and retain personnel with specialized skills to meet future workforce needs.|