White House summit on developing fusion energy, with Amy Roma as key regulatory panelist

Energy experts and leaders gathered at the White House on March 17, 2022 for a summit on the commercialization of clean fusion energy.  The summit, titled “Developing a Bold Decadal Vision for Commercial Fusion Energy,” was one of the Biden Administration’s first initiatives to accelerate commercial fusion energy, an innovative clean energy technology leveraging the same reaction that powers the Sun and stars.

The event consisted of three panels and brought together government, industry, academic and other stakeholders to explore the promise of the technology, remaining challenges, and considerations for deployment, including the consideration of environment justice, diversity and inclusion, and the regulatory framework landscape.  Among the climate and energy experts participating in the summit were U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, Alondra Nelson, head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy & Deputy Assistant to the President, and Gina McCarthy, the White House national climate advisor.  The second panel on Energy Justice and Public Engagement included blog contributor and Hogan Lovells Partner Amy Roma, and altogether the three panels included leaders from universities, the Department of Energy, national laboratories and private industry.  A recording of the full summit is available here.

The Biden Administration recognizes the significance of the opportunity to develop clean energy.  According to the White House fact sheet, “fusion is a potential carbon-free, abundant source of clean energy that will bolster American leadership, strengthen energy security, and enable sustained energy independence”.  The White House also announced that the Department of Energy will launch an agency-wide initiative to accelerate the viability of commercial fusion energy. 

Key topics on the summit agenda included:

  • Discussing the state of fusion technology and its benefits to the climate, energy security and U.S. global competitiveness.
  • Defining the steps needed to build a fusion industry that supports energy and environmental justice, energy ethics, environmental sustainability, diversity and effective public engagement.
  • Outlining the fusion industry’s visions and challenges, and how the U.S. government can accelerate fusion technology.

The summit also included discussion on energy justice and public engagement and focused on ways to ensure “that the benefits of fusion are shared in equitable and just ways across our communities,” as the White House stated in the fact sheet, noting that one key objective was “to bring a wide range of voices to the table for an inclusive and early conversation about the future of fusion technology.”

Notably, the benefits that fusion energy can contribute across U.S. communities and its role in the fight against climate change are significantly tied to  a fusion-tailored regulatory framework.  During the second panel, Amy Roma built upon her in-depth whitepaper, The Regulation of Fusion – A Practical and Innovation-Friendly Approach, to explain how the big picture of developing fusion energy technology also includes the development of a regulatory framework, and she provided an update on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s activities in this area, as well as global approaches under development to regulate fusion. 

The White House event comes just days after Congress provided a record amount of funding for fusion.  On March 15, 2022 the President signed the FY 2022 omnibus appropriations bill into law, which included a total of $713 million for DOE’s Fusion Energy Sciences, $242 million for the U.S. contribution to the ITER project, and $45 million for the Milestone-Based Development Program.

In step with the positive momentum, fusion companies have made significant advancements, with a number of key technical and business developments in just the past year.  A number of private U.S. fusion companies are currently working on prototypes intended to demonstrate positive energy in the next few years, with commercial scale facilities being deployed within the decade. These facilities are intended to provide market, cost-competitive carbon-free power.  Additional information on these companies and their investments can be found in a previous blog post.

 

 

Authored by Amy Roma and Stephanie Fishman.

 

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