Rep. Zoe Lofgren Urges her Colleagues to Support Groundbreaking U.S. Fusion Research Efforts Now Facing Cuts in President's Budget

March 25, 2014
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA-19), a senior member of the House Science Committee and a long time supporter of robust U.S scientific research, testified before the House Budget Committee on March 25, 2014, advocating for fully funding U.S. fusion research.  Rep. Lofgren noted that despite the groundbreaking progress fusion research experiments at facilities like the National Ignition Facility (NIF) made this summer, those same research initiatives are now facing budget cuts in the President's FY 2015 budget proposal.  Rep. Lofgren delivered the following remarks today urging her colleagues to fully support fusion research being undertaken at the national labs:

(remarks as delivered):   

Mr. Chairman, and Congressman McDermott, it's my pleasure to be here today to testify before on the place for fusion research and development in our nation's budget.

There is overwhelming evidence supporting R&D as a key to growing a vibrant economy, for national security in all its definitions, an educated workforce, and we need to continue that progress.  I want to focus in on the role of fusion and fusion energy in that big picture about R&D growing our prosperity. 

We know our planet faces a climate crisis that demands we make every effort to conserve, reduce and switch energy sources. And we have to investigate all options. Should it be workable — and the physicists, as well as I, believe that it will be — fusion could be our most effective tool for addressing and preventing the worst effects of climate change.

The history of fusion research in the United States is one of tremendous science and perpetually insufficient support. There is a long standing joke that fusion is 30 years away and it always will be.  That's because we've actually had inconsistent support for the science. 

But the truth is we're actually way closer than that.  Especially if we don't take our foot off of the accelerator.  The rest of the world is catching up and we cannot cede the lead on fusion energy research. 

In order to maintain a strong, diversified scientific effort to understand and achieve fusion, we must make it a budget priority.  That means robust funding for the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration's National Ignition Facility (NIF) and Inertial Confinement Fusion and High Yield Campaign (ICF), as well as the Office of Science's Office of Fusion Energy Sciences (OFES).

The National Ignition Facility, which is at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the congressional district of Congressman Eric Swalwell, is the world's most powerful laser. It is a crucial tool in maintaining the safety of our nuclear stockpile without underground testing. It approximates the conditions within an exploding Hydrogen warhead, and it is also reveals new understandings of the physical world and will show a path towards clean, safe fusion energy.

It took years and it took billions of dollars to build the National Ignition Facility.  It's the envy of world physicists. And in just the past few months we've had ground breaking experiments that have been covered in peer reviewed science journals such as Nature — we are getting close.  As the lead physicist at the NIF said, we don't yet have ignition yet, but we lit the match.  We cannot afford to take our foot off of the accelerator now. 

Now, unfortunately, budget reductions have already resulted in 300 layoffs at the Lawrence Livermore Lab, 80 of them are scientists, and if we do additional layoffs we're not going to be able to keep up the science research that needs to happen.

It's not just NIF, but ICF-companion facilities like the Z machine at Sandia National Labs and OMEGA at the University of Rochester are also pursuing parts of this cutting edge research.  We need to make sure that the President's request—which actually is threatening to close brand new facilities like the NDCX-II at Berkeley National Lab, and older ones like the Alcator C-Mod at MIT—that his request not be honored in this case.  It fails to keep up the even funding that we need.

Now budgets, by their nature, are about making choices and we have many difficult choices.  But we cannot choose to drop the ball on fusion energy research at this point.  China and Russia are chasing us—we can't afford to let them overtake us.  So I would urge that we maintain an even funding for fusion research for the future of the planet, for the competitiveness of the United States, and for the security that it also assures in avoiding nuclear testing. 

And with that, Mr. Chairman, Mr. McDermott, I thank you very greatly for listening to me.

# # #

Click here for video of Rep. Lofgren's statement.