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Fusion power and public-private partnerships

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As the debate continues in Washington about the best ways to create high-quality, family-sustaining jobs, strengthen our nation’s leadership as the world’s “idea factory,” and finally achieve net-zero emissions, a solution that helps address each goal is readily apparent: fusion energy.

Recent breakthroughs in fusion research indicate that this long-promised technology is on the cusp of becoming a reality. Fusion energy research aims to mimic the process that takes place within the sun — hydrogen fuses into helium under high temperatures and immense pressure, and in the process, releases enormous amounts of energy. Notably, the process generates minimal waste, and its fuel supply is virtually limitless. That’s why it’s essential that the United States emerge as the world leader in this carbon-free source of abundant energy.

For decades, the successful harnessing of fusion energy has evaded researchers. It’s extraordinarily difficult to reproduce the solar process in a confined space, and it currently takes more energy to begin the fusion process than it creates. However, those barriers may soon be broken, and private investors, recognizing the technology’s promise, have committed billions of dollars to help solve the remaining challenges in partnership with the world-class expertise and substantial fusion research tools stewarded by our nation’s universities and national laboratories.

Some scientists say the day is fast approaching when a compact fusion device will produce as much as ten times the energy needed to drive the process. That would be an historic milestone, and it’s why the National Academy of Sciences recommended in 2019 that the United States foster the R&D necessary for a pilot fusion plant.

To that end, we sponsored an amendment last fall to the Clean Energy Jobs and Innovation Act to expand fusion research and development across our nation’s labs and universities, and to facilitate greater private investment in this technology. This provision, which was later made law as part of the Energy Act of 2020, will help show the tremendous benefit of federal support while ensuring that taxpayers’ investment is protected.
But more than that, it’ll enable the United States to lead the way in demonstrating the power of commercial fusion energy and the key role it stands to play in defeating the climate crisis and reversing its many consequences.

The urgency in this effort cannot be overstated. We aren’t the only nation working to meet this challenge. In fact, many countries, including the United Kingdom and China, are pouring funding into a fusion power solution that could change energy production as we know it.

Without additional federal investments in fusion energy now, the United States risks ceding our leadership to others. That would mean missing the opportunity to initialize an industry capable of generating jobs for the foreseeable future and lead the world in developing a substantial new source of carbon-free electricity.

But if we are prepared to make the necessary investments, the United States can still be the first to achieve commercial-scale fusion. All it takes is a commitment to wisely leveraging public and private resources, as authorized by our amendment, and we will be well on our way to cementing America’s clean energy superpower status for the 21st century.

Democratic Congresswoman Lori Trahan represents Massachusetts’ 3rd District in the U.S. House of Representatives where she sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Democratic Congressman Conor Lamb represents Pennsylvania’s 17th District in the U.S. House of Representatives where he sits on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.


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