Barrasso: We May Be Turning the Corner on Fusion Energy

September 15, 2022

Click here to watch Ranking Member Barrasso’s remarks.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR), delivered remarks at a full committee hearing to examine the federal government’s role in supporting the commercialization of fusion energy. 

The hearing featured testimony from Dr. Scott Hsu, lead fusion coordinator of the Office of the Undersecretary for Science and Innovation at the U.S. Department of Energy; Professor Steven Cowley, director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory; Dr. Tim Luce, chief scientist of the ITER Organization; and Dr. Bob Mumgaard, CEO and co-founder of the Commonwealth Fusion Systems. 

For more information on witness testimony click here. 

Senator Barrasso’s remarks: 

“Thanks so much Mr. Chairman, and thanks for holding this very important hearing today.

“There is an old saying about fusion… 

“‘It’s 30 years away and always will be.’

“I believe that’s no longer the case. 

“Innovators are working to move us beyond fusion science. 

“They are working to demonstrate usable fusion energy. 

“We still have a long way to go, but we may be turning the corner. 

“In March, the White House hosted a summit on commercial fusion energy.

“In the wake of this summit, one of our witnesses, Dr. Cowley, was quoted in Newsweek saying, ‘I believe that we could have fusion electricity by the end of the 2030s.’

“There have also been recent reports highlighting the steps needed to harness fusion energy. 

“These reports include a 2021 study from the National Academies of Science titled, ‘Bringing Fusion to the U.S. Grid.’ 

“This hearing is going to help us better understand what’s needed to commercialize this technology. 

“We’ve enjoyed the benefits of nuclear energy for more than half a century. 

“Today’s nuclear energy – called nuclear ‘fission’ – is generated when we split a uranium atom. 

“Nuclear ‘fusion’ energy takes the opposite approach. 

“Fusion energy is generated when elements, such as hydrogen, are combined. 

“This is the process that powers the sun. 

“It’s also how dozens of elements on the periodic table are created.

“English physicist, Arthur Eddington, first theorized the existence of nuclear fusion over 100 years ago.

“But unlike nuclear fission, we have not been able to generate electricity from fusion energy. 

“The Department of Energy leads the federal government’s efforts to develop nuclear fusion energy. 

“The Fusion Energy Sciences Program is managed from the Office of Science. 

“The program remains largely focused on basic scientific research. 

“The department’s National Nuclear Security Administration supports another type of fusion technology. 

“Specifically, the National Ignition Facility uses a massive laser to focus enormous amounts of energy on a tiny target. 

“The primary mission of this facility is to support our nuclear weapons program. 

“It is also advancing fusion research. 

“Last year, this facility took a historic step forward by producing heat from fusion reactions. 

“This is an important step toward demonstrating usable fusion energy. 

“There are 33 private-sector companies developing fusion energy systems right now. 

“Backed by over $4.7 billion in private investment, these fusion companies are making progress. 

“They are eager to partner with the Department of Energy to move beyond fundamental scientific research. 

“At the same time, they are outpacing the department by developing technologies that are smaller and cheaper. 

“Private-sector companies may demonstrate the ability to generate net energy production before the federal government achieves its milestone. 

“Commonwealth Fusion Systems is one such company. 

“To support these private-sector efforts, Congress authorized the Department of Energy to establish a milestone-based fusion development program in the Energy Act of 2020. 

“The department has been slow to implement this program. 

“I understand that Dr. Hsu was recently brought in to lead this effort. 

“I look forward to hearing how the department is preparing to work with the private sector to transition from fusion science to commercial fusion energy. 

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”