House Subcommittee on Energy Hearing - March 6, 2018
Partial Transcript of Video of Testimony x

House Subcommittee on Energy Hearing - The Future of U.S. Fusion Energy Research
Date: Tuesday, March 6, 2018 - 10:00am
Location: 2318 Rayburn House Office Building


TIMECODE: 01:08:24

ROHRABACHER: Dr. Van Dam, how much money has been spent on trying to produce fusion energy so far?

VAN DAM: By the U.S.?

ROHRABACHER: The U.S., and then everybody.

VAN DAM: I would have to take that on as a homework assignment.

ROHRABACHER: You don't know?

VAN DAM: Well, are you talking about integrated over the past —

ROHRABACHER: We're talking about a major project here and you don't know how much money has been expended so far by the people who are engaged in this coalition to create fusion energy?

VAN DAM: Are you speaking of ITER?

ROHRABACHER: I'm not. I'm talking about fusion energy now.

VAN DAM: We have a current FY 2019 budget request of $340 million —

ROHRABACHER: We do, right.

VAN DAM: to the Congress, and it's up to you, of course. The FY 2017 enacted was $380, before that it was a bit higher. It was running about $400 million per year.

ROHRABACHER: So you know the budget for the last two or three years. But before that — have we spent billions of dollars on fusion energy over the years and, with our allies, billions and billions, how much? Have we had any actual realization at all, of something other than the computer models that suggests that we're going to get there? Have we had an ignition of fusion? Man-made fusion energy?

VAN DAM: Well, there are two examples; one in the U.S., one in Europe. The U.S. example was the TFTR tokamak at Princeton in the late 1990s, and they got very close to breakeven. The Joint European Torus, likewise, around the same time, got even closer.

ROHRABACHER: Very close is not it, right?

VAN DAM: Well, those were still smaller machines.

ROHRABACHER: Yes, well, very close doesn't work.

VAN DAM: Well, there's breakeven and —

ROHRABACHER: We have man-made fusion energy, do you have something that went on for a minute worth of fusion energy? — No.

VAN DAM: Well, national security applications, but they don't last that long.

ROHRABACHER: Well, okay, let us note that we've had very little physical evidence that it is actually — we have a lot of computer models here and let me just note that I have been here for a while and I've seen a lot of computer models that didn't work. Is it possible that we will get to the end of this project and it won't work?

VAN DAM: I sincerely hope not and the best —

ROHRABACHER: That's not — is it possible that it won't work?

VAN DAM: The best projections from experiments we have done over the past decades, in our experience, the database, the computer modeling, and the new technology that we have, we think it will definitely work.

ROHRABACHER: We think, we think, okay. Let me just note this, that I would love to believe in the dream of fusion energy. I would love to believe that. And it's possible we will get there. But we know that with the expenditure of the kind of money we've spent on fusion energy, we could have developed fission energy alternatives that are for sure. Not just computer models, but for sure! And we have nobody, when we were interviewing about those models, who was saying "I think." No, they are very sure. General Atomics, for example, has come up with a number of alternatives that they know they can complete and I would suggest that with the limited amount of money that we have that we should be going for those things that we know we can actually do when it comes to the nuclear energy production of electricity.

This project has been going on for a number of years and we're spending billions of dollars and we still do not know for sure whether or not there will be the type of ignition that we keep spending money on. Let me just note that we do have byproducts — let me tip my hat to General Atomics and others that are involved in this project. Mr. Chairman, there are byproducts that we have had from this research that have permitted the development of new materials. Things such as that may, in the end, turn out to be worth the investment without fusion. But in terms of actually producing energy I think the American people deserve us to go for a "for sure" outcome; electricity that we could spend the same amount of money on rather than something that could work because the computer models tell us so. Dr. Bigot, go right ahead, I know you're anxious to refute that or say something good about it, so please use my time to do that.

BIGOT: If I may, from my point of view, we have achieved what the computer modeling has been able to achieve. Which means, at JET, we know it could not deliver more than 70% of the fusion power it received.

ROHRABACHER: Was that 70 or 17?

BIGOT: 70. Because of the size, it is not possible to have a net fusion power. But we had fusion power, but not a net outcome. This is why with ITER, we need a larger tokamak, a larger vacuum vessel and the expectation is to have 10 times the fusion power that we will feed in with the heating system — 500 megawatts of fusion power. So everybody in this audience has to understand there is a minimum size if you want to get fusion power. You need to have a sufficient number of fusion events per unit time in order to deliver.

So, my understanding is, so far, the computer modeling has done very well and it is why, from my point of view, I am confident that if we are able to assemble properly all the components, making this ITER facility, we will deliver.

TIMECODE: 01:14:57