Nuclear Fusion Development

September 12, 1980

Report Outline
New Optimism About Fusion
Early Experiments and Research
Outlook for Commercialization
Special Focus

New Optimism About Fusion

Increased Funding for Fusion Research

Nuclear fusion, the energy source of the sun and other stars, could provide the Earth with a virtually unlimited energy supply — if it can be harnessed effectively and economically. Since the beginning of fusion research three decades ago, it often has seemed that the harder scientists worked, the further away a viable fusion technology appeared. Pleading for time, fusion researchers would tell impatient critics that their work was the most challenging scientific program ever undertaken. But such claims only strengthened the impression that this was one confrontation between nature and man that nature was going to win.

In recent years, however, fusion researchers have shown a marked optimism. Experts in the field still are careful to point out that fusion research has so far failed to produce a single controlled fusion reaction. But now, in sharp contrast to earlier years, they go on to say that a successful demonstration of the technology is within sight. “We can't prove it yet, but we believe it,” is how a Department of Energy planning official assessed the outlook in a recent interview. Dr. Edward Kintner, who directs one of the department's two fusion energy programs, said that “the question of when we'll get workable fusion now is more a question of man than nature.”

Reflecting the new optimism about fusion's viability, government support for fusion research has grown significantly in recent years. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, government funding for fusion research hovered at $20 million-$30 million. Not until the oil crisis of 1973–74 did appropriations begin to increase sharply. In fiscal year 1980, the authorization for the fusion program considered most promising — magnetic confinement fusion — came to $350 million.

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