The Biden administration is setting ambitious goals for the development of a commercial nuclear fusion facility within the next decade as part of its broader clean energy transition, announced U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm on Monday.
Highlighting nuclear fusion as a groundbreaking technology, Granholm emphasized President Joe Biden’s vision of utilizing fusion as a carbon-free energy source capable of powering both homes and businesses.
Granholm expressed optimism about the possibility of achieving Biden’s “decadal vision of commercial fusion” and shared her thoughts during an extensive interview with The Associated Press in Vienna.
Nuclear fusion operates by forcefully combining hydrogen atoms into helium, resulting in the release of substantial energy and heat. Unlike traditional nuclear reactions, fusion doesn’t produce radioactive waste, making it an appealing option for the transition away from fossil fuels. However, the realization of carbon-free fusion energy to power homes and businesses remains a distant prospect, with decades of development still ahead.
A significant breakthrough occurred in December when researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California successfully achieved nuclear fusion after years of dedicated work.
In her interview, Granholm also commended the role of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, based in Vienna, in verifying international commitments and preventing the misuse of nuclear programs, including for the production of nuclear weapons.
Granholm highlighted the essential role of nuclear energy in the Biden administration’s goal of achieving a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035 and a net-zero emissions economy by 2050.
Regarding the challenge of finding storage sites for radioactive waste, Granholm disclosed that the U.S. has initiated a process to identify potential communities willing to host interim storage facilities. Currently, most spent fuel is stored at nuclear reactors across the country, and exploring alternatives is crucial.
While the U.S. does not currently recycle spent nuclear fuel, some countries, like France, have experience with recycling. However, critics argue that the process is not cost-effective and could pose proliferation risks. Granholm stressed the importance of careful handling and non-proliferation safeguards in any recycling efforts.
Professor Dennis Whyte, director of the Plasma Science and Fusion Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, commended the U.S. approach to fusion research, emphasizing the need for multiple avenues to achieve the goal of commercial fusion without greenhouse gas emissions.
In other discussions, Granholm mentioned that the Biden administration could announce details of an $8 billion hydrogen hub program in October, funded by the bipartisan infrastructure law. These hubs would comprise clean hydrogen production, industrial usage, and supporting infrastructure.
While acknowledging environmental concerns about hydrogen, Granholm set a goal of reducing the cost of clean hydrogen to $1 per kilogram within a decade.
In response to the U.K.’s decision to delay key climate targets, Granholm emphasized the urgency of addressing climate change, citing recent heatwaves in the U.K. She underscored the importance of collective action in the global transition to clean energy and commended the U.K. as a valuable partner in advancing modern technologies for the climate transition.