This petition was submitted to the Whitehouse web site because we have not made significant investments in advanced energy research for decades. Now is the time to make a larger investment in new energy research for the following reasons:
The President's response should address how the money is spent and funded, and estimate the success of this effort. Much of the conservative movement will disagree with this use of large, long-term investments for scientific research. US history is full of large successful projects including the Hoover Dam, the Atomic Bomb, the space program and the Internet. If we continued investing in fusion research back in the 1980s, we could have had fusion power by now.
The Oil Drum web site has diligently documented the scientific evidence behind peak oil and the impact on this industry on the environment. Carbon Fuels won’t last forever. As shown in the following Figures, the lack of new discoveries of oil is not keeping up with increasing global demand. The result is a classic example of demand exceeding supply and price increases from limited availability as demonstrated in Figures 1 and 2.
Figure 1: History of Discovered oil / yr
Figure 2: Oil Production vs Price
Renewable energy cannot sustain 100% availability, and every decade or so we get a demonstration of the environmental issues resulting from accidents at Nuclear Fission power plants. We should learn from the energy crisis of the 1970s when there was a surge in government spending for energy research after the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973. In October of 1974 President Ford signed the Energy Reorganization Act if 1974 which restructured the government and created new Federal Agencies; Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and the Energy Resources Council. ERDA budget for Fiscal Year 1975 was $3.6 Billion. This budget amount was maintained for a few years until it was slashed in the early 80s as shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3: Fusion Energy Budget 1955 to 2012
Figure 3 shows Fusion research funding in two principal areas of research: Magnetic Confinement Fusion (MFE) and Internal Confinement Fusion (ICF). Spending on both has been well below the equivalent of $1 Billion for decades. Other areas of fusion research such as aneutronic fusion have received little or no funding.
In April of 2012, MIT Fusion researchers answered questions from the Slashdot.org community. In their responses, they claimed that we were $80 billion away from a reactor. Lockheed is planning to build one in a decade. With this size of investment; by the end of 10 years the first generation of fusion reactors may be under construction or on-line. Projects like ARIES-AT At UC San Diego could receive sufficient funds to demonstrate the feasibility of a 1000 MWe power plant.
This effort is similar to the development of the first atomic bomb and John F. Kennedy’s goal to put a man on the moon. The Space Program of the 1960s cost about $150 Billion in current dollars. The amount of the petition is less spent on the moon project or the space shuttle, but over 7 times the budget of CERN. The ITER International Hydrogen Fusion Project is expected to cost in excess of $15 Billion. Their achievement of first Plasma is targeted for 2020, start of Deuterium-tritium operation is 2027. Spending on Fusion research will accelerate progress towards these goals in US research labs instead of France. If Hydrogen fusion/plasma research is successful, by the 250th anniversary of the country in 2026 we will have a new energy source for future generations of all mankind.
Hydrogen Fusion generates electricity without carbon dioxide emissions. The power output of the plant could be regulated, similar to today’s fossil fuels. Many critics claim renewable energy is unstable for planning grid power.
This is true.
The critics quickly conclude that carbon fuels are still needed to provide backup energy for when the wind doesn’t blow or when the sun isn’t shining.
This is shortsighted.
Fusion power plants could start phasing out coal-fired plants within a few decades from now. Fusion plants could be used to compensate between demand and capacity generated from renewable sources. Smaller fusion plants may power ships, aircraft, trains, possibly vehicles. This continues to phase out fossil fuels from the energy supply chain of society.
Our capitalist economy constantly derives directly and indirectly from advanced research and scientific achievements. Technology like Radar, GPS, and the Internet all started from government funded programs. This research will result in more than electrical power from fusion power plants. Greater scientific knowledge of plasma could impact other areas. A proposal covered the use of Fusion to fuel hypersonic aircraft with larger payloads for long distance flights or into orbit and beyond.
It has been proven by over 30 years of history that we won't have fusion unless we invest.
As discussed earlier, initial proposals for advancing fusion research date back to the late 70s. At that time, a committee proposed options to advance research based upon the urgency of investments. This is shown in the following graph:
(Source: “Fusion Power By Magnetic Confinement Program Plan, Volume I Summary” July 1976)
The chart is in millions of 1973 dollars. In this Report, Logic 1 is described as “If this pace were continued, a practical fusion power system might never be built.” Logic II was “Moderately Expanding” Logic III was “Aggressive” Logic IV was “Accelerated” and Logic V was “Maximum Effective Effort.” The Years show estimates when a demo power plant would be available.
The second graph is updated and shows similar projections against actual funding.
Figure 4: Projected Fusion Budgets vs Actual Spending
Figure 4 shows that the lack of research funding is the primary reason why fusion research was not achieved already. By making a significant, long-term commitment to fusion, we will achieve research goals decades sooner than current plans, and start to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels.
There was a time when travelling to the moon was considered science fiction, now it’s history. Mankind needs a new energy source, and that is harnessing the power of the sun! If we continued fusion research back in the 70s or 80s, we could have fusion by now. This is why investments in Research and Development make sense. Now is the time to act! We can change the agenda down in Washington with enough signatures for this petition. If you believe that $100 Billion over ten years is a sound investment for future generations, please go sign the petition and tell your friends about it.
Here is a moderate blog with a supporting argument.
Here is a progressive blog with a supporting argument.
 Source: “A History of the Energy Research and Development Administration” Alice Buck, U.S. Department of Energy 3/92