US Aims to Create Nuke Fusion Facility 09/26 06:04
The Biden administration hopes to create a commercial nuclear fusion
facility within 10 years as part of the nation's transition to clean energy,
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said Monday.
VIENNA (AP) -- The Biden administration hopes to create a commercial nuclear
fusion facility within 10 years as part of the nation's transition to clean
energy, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said Monday.
Calling nuclear fusion a pioneering technology, Granholm said President Joe
Biden wants to harness fusion as a carbon-free energy source that can power
homes and businesses.
"It's not out of the realm of possibility" that the U.S. could achieve
Biden's "decadal vision of commercial fusion," Granholm said in a wide-ranging
interview with The Associated Press in Vienna.
Fusion works by pressing hydrogen atoms into each other with such force that
they combine into helium, releasing enormous amounts of energy and heat. Unlike
other nuclear reactions, it doesn't create radioactive waste. Proponents of
nuclear fusion hope it could one day displace fossil fuels and other
traditional energy sources. But producing carbon-free energy that powers homes
and businesses from fusion is still decades away.
A successful nuclear fusion was first achieved by researchers at the
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California last December in a major
breakthrough after decades of work.
Granholm also praised the role of the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog in
verifying that states live up to their international commitments and do not use
their nuclear programs for illicit purposes, including to build nuclear weapons.
"The IAEA is instrumental in making sure that nuclear is harnessed for good
and that it does not fall into the hands of bad actors," she said.
The watchdog organization has agreements with more than 170 states to
inspect their nuclear programs. The aim is to verify their nuclear activities
and nuclear material and to confirm that it is used for peaceful purposes,
including to generate energy.
Nuclear energy is an essential component of the Biden administration's goal
of achieving a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035 and net zero
emissions economy by 2050.
Asked about the difficulty of finding storage sites for radioactive waste,
Granholm said that the U.S. has initiated a process to identify communities
across the country who may be willing to host an interim storage location.
Currently, most of the spent fuel is stored at nuclear reactors across the
"We have identified 12 organizations that are going to be in discussion with
communities across the country about whether they are interested (in hosting an
interim site)," she said.
The U.S. currently does not recycle spent nuclear fuel but other countries,
including France, already have experience with it.
Spent nuclear fuel can be recycled in such a way that new fuel is created.
But critics of the process say it is not cost-effective and could lead to the
proliferation of atomic weapons.
There are two proliferation concerns associated with recycling, according to
the Washington-based Arms Control Association: The recycling process increases
the risk that plutonium could be stolen by terrorists, and second, those
countries with separated plutonium could produce nuclear weapons themselves.
"It has to be done very carefully with all these non-proliferation
safeguards in place," Granholm said.
Professor Dennis Whyte, director of the Plasma Science and Fusion Center at
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the U.S. has taken a smart
approach on fusion by advancing research and designs by a range of companies
working toward a pilot-scale demonstration within a decade.
"It doesn't guarantee a particular company will get there, but we have
multiple shots on goal," he said, referring to the Energy Department's
milestone-based fusion development program. "It's the right way to do it, to
support what we all want to see: commercial fusion to power our society"
without greenhouse gas emissions.
On other topics, Granholm said that depending on whether the U.S. government
shuts down or not, the Biden administration could announce in October details
on an $8 billion hydrogen hub program that will be funded by the bipartisan
A hub is meant to be a network of companies that produce clean hydrogen and
of the industries that use it -- heavy transportation, for example -- and
infrastructure such as pipelines and refueling stations. States and companies
have teamed up to create hub proposals.
Environmental groups say hydrogen presents its own pollution and climate
risks. When released into the atmosphere, it boosts volumes of methane and
other greenhouse gases.
"Our goal is to get the cost of clean hydrogen down to 1 dollar per kilogram
within one decade," Granholm insisted.
As fossil fuel emissions continue warming Earth's atmosphere and extreme
weather phenomena occur globally, Granholm was asked her opinion on the
announcement by U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak that the U.K. will delay
crucial climate targets.
Sunak said last week that he will push back the deadline for selling new
gasoline and diesel cars and the phasing out of gas boilers as part of one of
his biggest policy changes since taking office.
"When you see the heatwaves that the U.K. experienced this summer, I think
it becomes obvious that we need to put on the accelerator," she said, while
adding that the U.K. has been a "great partner" in pushing modern technologies.
"We want to see everybody moving forward as quickly as possible (on the
clean energy transition), including ourselves," she said.