Summary of President's FY 23 Fusion Budget Requests

May 12, 2022

Congress has been asked to provide the following budgets for fusion from President Biden in his FY 23 budget request at: The administration is now requesting.

For the Office of Fusion Energy Sciences, the FY 23 request is for $723 million, compared to $713 in FY 22. Of this, $242 is for the US contribution to the ITER project, the same as in FY 22.

For Inertial Confinement Fusion, within the NNSA portion of the DOE budget, the FY 23 request is for $580 million, compared to $575 million in FY 22.

The American Institute of Physics has summarized, and provided commentary on, the requests as follows:

The FES budget is increasing 6% to $713 million in fiscal year 2022 and the administration seeks a 1% increase to $723 million for next year. Although the administration has not favored the program in its budgets to date, the White House recently held a summit to initiate work on a long-term strategy for accelerating commercial fusion energy. Meanwhile, the House Science Committee has taken a particularly strong interest in the program and advocates an immediate budget increase to $1 billion.

ITER. Congress has kept funding for the international ITER facility flat at $242 million, with at least $60 million reserved for the U.S. cash contribution, and the administration requests $240 million for fiscal year 2023. However, the U.S. remains somewhat behind in its funding obligations to the project and the Science Committee recommends increasing its annual budget to $325 million.

The administration's request notes that the overall U.S. contribution to the project through the achievement of first plasma is expected to be $3.4 billion, which includes $900 million in cash contributions. ITER has been expecting to achieve first plasma in late 2025, but the project is currently facing the prospect of delays stemming from various causes. Anticipating the first plasma milestone, the administration has planned to spend $2 million this year to organize a team that will prepare the U.S. fusion research community to be "ready on day one to benefit from the scientific and technological opportunities offered by ITER." It requests the same amount for fiscal year 2023.

NSTX-U. Recovery efforts are continuing at Princeton Plasma Physics Lab's National Spherical Torus Experiment-Upgrade facility following a failure in 2016, months after its startup. NSTX-U was initially expected to be offline for only about a year, but changes in plans have been pushing the restart target back and now DOE states that in fiscal year 2023 it expects to begin commissioning component systems to prepare for the start of plasma operations at a later date.

MPEX. Congress increased funding from $21 million to $25 million for the Material Plasma Exposure Experiment at Oak Ridge National Lab, which will test materials in conditions analogous to those that would prevail inside a nuclear fusion reactor. The administration requests $14 million for fiscal year 2023 as the project approaches the end of its funding profile, though it will not actually begin assembly until early 2023.

Milestone-based funding. Congress has directed FES to spend up to $45 million in fiscal year 2022 to launch a program authorized in the Energy Act of 2020 that will reimburse private fusion ventures after they achieve defined technical milestones. The administration requests $32 million for all public-private partnerships in fiscal year 2023, encompassing both the milestone-based program as well as the smaller INFUSE program, which supports collaborations between private fusion ventures and DOE national labs.

Fusion plant studies. The administration has planned to spend $3 million this year on studies that will lay groundwork for a future fusion power plant, and it is requesting $4 million for this activity in fiscal year 2023.

Inertial fusion energy. The Energy Act of 2020 also directed DOE to create an inertial fusion energy program within FES, supplemental to the National Nuclear Security Administration's inertial confinement fusion program and efforts supported by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. Accordingly, the administration requests $3 million to establish the program, which will support research in foundational science and technologies identified through a Basic Research Needs workshop taking place this month.

Petawatt laser. Momentum is flagging for a project to upgrade the Matter in Extreme Conditions end station at SLAC. The project received nearly $16 million in fiscal year 2021, but Congress provided only the requested level of $5 million this year, and the administration now proposes $1 million, which would effectively put the project on ice. Adding to MEC's difficulties, DOE has increased its upper-bound estimate for the project's cost from $372 million to $461 million. MEC is part of SLAC's Linac Coherent Light Source XFEL facility, and the upgrade would increase its power into the petawatt range, responding to a 2017 National Academies report that spotlighted a dearth of petawatt-scale laser facilities in the U.S.

Inertial Confinement Fusion. The ICF program budget is increasing by $5 million to $580 million for fiscal year 2022. Congress directs the program to provide at least $350 million for the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Lab and at least $83 million for the OMEGA Laser Facility at the University of Rochester. The amounts are each $1 million above the minimums Congress specified last year. Congress also directs the program to provide at least level funding of $6 million to the Nike laser at the Naval Research Lab, which the administration proposed to zero out, and at least level funding of $67 million for the Z Facility at Sandia National Labs.

For fiscal year 2023, the administration requests a $36 million cut to the ICF program and again proposes to terminate its contribution to the Nike laser. It does not specify budgets for the other facilities.

Discussing NIF's record-breaking experiment, NNSA notes the result exceeded the expectations of a recent internal review that concluded achieving fusion ignition is "likely beyond current experimental capabilities." However, NNSA states the review's priority recommendations "largely remain valid" and entail a focus on "resolving key gaps in physics understanding," assessing the justification for "any future experimental capability investments," and attracting early-career researchers to NIF as well as Z and OMEGA.

NNSA observes these facilities each are more than 10 years old and have "urgent needs for refurbishment." It adds, "Over the next five years, a significant investment will be made to sustain the ICF facilities and assure their continued contributions to stockpile stewardship in the 2030s."

Outside the NNSA budget, the DOE Office of Science requests $3 million to launch a program to research the prospects of generating energy from inertial fusion. Congress directed the office to establish such a program through the Energy Act of 2020, recommending an initial budget of $25 million.