The Department of Energy Fusion Energy Sciences (FES) program leads the national research effort to advance plasma science, fusion science, and fusion technology—the knowledge base needed for an economically and environmentally attractive fusion energy source. The National Energy Policy states that fusion power has the long-range potential to serve as an abundant and clean source of energy and recommends that the Department develop fusion. The next frontier in the quest for fusion power is a sustained, burning (or self-heated) plasma, and the Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (FESAC) has concluded that the fusion program is technically and scientifically ready to proceed with a burning plasma experiment and has recommended joining the ongoing negotiations to construct the international burning plasma experiment, ITER. The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences has endorsed this strategy. Based in part on these recommendations and an assessment by the Office of Science of the cost estimate for the construction of ITER, the President has decided that the U.S. should join the ITER negotiations.
Fusion science is a subfield of plasma science that deals primarily with studying the fundamental processes taking place in plasmas where the temperature and density approach the conditions needed to allow the nuclei of two low-mass elements, like hydrogen isotopes, to join together, or fuse. When these nuclei fuse, a large amount of energy is released. Fusion science research is organized around the two leading methods of confining the fusion plasma—magnetic, where strong magnetic fields constrain the charged plasma particles, and inertial, where laser or particle beams compress and heat the plasma in very short pulses.