US Senate Appropriations Committee Approves FY 2020 Fusion Funding Bill

September 13, 2019

The Appropriations Committee of the US Senate has approved a Fiscal Year 2020 bill that funds the US Department of Energy, including its Office of Fusion Energy Sciences and its Inertial Confinement Fusion program within its National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

For the Office of Fusion Energy Sciences the bill would provide a total of $570 million compared to $688 million approved by the House of Representatives in May, and compared to $564 million in the current FY 2019 budget and compared to $403 million proposed by the President (see FPN19-11).

Within the total $570 million, $390 million would be for the domestic fusion program compared to$458 million approved by the House of Representatives, $432 million in the current FY 2019 budget and $296 million requested by the President.

The Senate bill would provide $180 million for the US contribution to the ITER project compared to $230 million in the House-passed bill, $132 million in the current FY 2019 budget and $107 million requested by the President..

Report language accompanying the bill is as follows:

The Committee recommends $570,000,000 for Fusion Energy Sciences.

U.S. Contribution to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor [ITER] Project. --
The Committee recommends $180,000,000 for the domestic, in-kind contributions and related support activities of the ITER project.

The Department is encouraged to support optimal facility operations levels for DIII-D. The Committee recommends $30,000,000 for the Material Plasma Exposure eXperiment. The Committee supports the Matter in Extreme Conditions Petawatt Upgrade project and recommends $14,400,000 in construction funding and $1,400,000 in other project costs funding. The Committee recommends $20,000,000 for LaserNetUS.

The Committee is aware of the increase in global investment in private fusion energy companies developing advanced technology approaches with a focus on commercialization. The U.S. has an opportunity to seize global leadership in this transformational energy sector and attract global industry stakeholders by building on the Department's laboratory capabilities and world class fusion science talent while partnering with these private fusion companies. The Committee supports the Department's recent creation of the Innovation Network for Fusion Energy [INFUSE] research and development program that is advancing enabling fusion energy commercialization technologies through partnerships with industry, labs and universities, and provides up to $20,000,000 over the budget request for the continuation of the INFUSE program. In addition, the Committee directs the Department to create a Fusion Public-Private Partnership Cost Share Program that advances multiple fusion advanced reactor technologies which are ready for large-scale integrated performance demonstration. The Committee recommends up to $20,000,000 for this new program and directs the Department to commence a Funding Opportunity Announcement [FOA] this year with the intention of making awards to up to three private fusion energy companies pursuing diverse technological approaches to commercial fusion energy to support large-scale integrated performance prototype demonstrations within the next five years. The FOA should seek to attract leading private fusion energy companies to conduct these prototype demonstrations in partnership with, and at, the existing Office of Science laboratories to enhance leadership in these emerging advanced fusion technologies. The Department is directed to provide to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress not later than 60 days after enactment of this act a briefing on this cost share program to include program objectives, eligibility requirements, as well as a funding profile for future fiscal years.

Inertial Confinement Fusion Ignition and High-Yield. --
The Committee finds that the Inertial Confinement Fusion and High Yield [ICF] program continues to be a critical and essential component of nuclear stockpile certification without underground nuclear weapons testing, maintaining U.S. leadership in high energy density physics and laser technologies, and developing the next-generation workforce.

Therefore, the Committee recommends $570,000,000 for the ICF program. The recommendation includes not less than $344,000,000 for the National Ignition Facility, not less than $63,100,000 for the Z Facility, not less than $6,000,000 for the NIKE Laser at the Naval Research Laboratory, and not less than $80,000,000 for the OMEGA laser facility. The Committee encourages continued research in High Energy Density Plasmas and recognizes the partnerships between the laboratories and research universities to address the critical need for skilled graduates to replace an aging workforce at our NNSA laboratories. Within available funds, the Committee recommends up to $5,000,000 for the Joint Program in High Energy Density Laboratory Plasmas.

The Committee directs NNSA's Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs to charge the JASON Defense Advisory Panel to conduct an independent review of the Inertial Confinement Fusion program. The JASON Defense Advisory Panel should be responsible for assessing the value and effectiveness of the inertial confinement fusion program in maintaining a safe, secure, and effective nuclear stockpile and recruiting a highly skilled and talented workforce to national security missions, including a pipeline to the NNSA national laboratories, and offer recommendations on how to further strengthen the program over the next ten years. The JASON Defense Advisory Panel should also independently evaluate the technical progress of all three approaches to ignition, recommend and prioritize future research and infrastructure priorities to make further progress in achieving ignition, and assess the status of international competition and the United States' ability to avoid technological surprise. These assessments should be completed and provided to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress by September 30, 2020, and an unclassified summary should be made available.

The Committee recognizes that a predictable and sustained flow of targets is essential to operation of NNSA's large laser facilities. A robust vendor base promotes innovation and ensures defense-indepth. Furthermore, the national laboratories are the target fabrication centers of last resort, even while they maintain expertise to make them knowledgeable buyers. Therefore, within available funds for facility operations and other amounts, the Committee recommends not less than $30,000,000 for target research, development, and production. Further, NNSA is directed to provide a justification for all target fabrication conducted by its national laboratories.

The Committee is concerned that near peer adversaries are developing a capability to eclipse the scientific leadership of the United States with regard to pulsed power experiments and technology. The Administrator, within 45 days of enactment of this act shall submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations of both the House and the Senate, with appropriate classified annexes, describing the NNSA's plans to meet or exceed proposed near peer technological developments with regard to pulsed power facilities and technologies. The administration shall include a preliminary budget to build or modify existing facilities to address shortfalls and prevent a technological surprise.