Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
November 29, 2014

‘Iron Man II’ Debuts in House Science

Ned Sauthoff, the director of U.S. involvement at an international fusion project in France, relied on popular references Friday to explain to lawmakers the status of technological advancement in the decades-long quest for fusion power.

“We haven’t yet figured out how to make the Mr. Fusion machine that Professor Emmett Brown put on the top of his DeLorean in ‘Back to the Future,’ and we won’t know how to make that power pack that Tony Stark had in ‘Iron Man,’ but we do know how to make the arc reactor that is in the bottom of the Stark Tower in ‘Iron Man II.’”

“These are great answers,” said House Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith of Texas. “If we are successful in developing future sources of fusion energy, wouldn’t that largely solve the problem of carbon emissions?” asked Smith, whose committee members widely disagree on the subject of climate change.

Pat Dehmer, the Energy Department’s deputy director for science programs avoided overselling the technology, which for more than half a century has been as much a promise of the future as the flying car.

“That’s a big if and the if is a long way off,” she said.

But “the potential is indeed quite great,” Sauthoff said.

The project, which would be the first large-scale sustained fusion reaction,  has been troubled by the multinational, decentralized organizational structure, as the New Yorker detailed. Last year appropriators required the Energy Department to provide baseline cost, schedule and scope before proving funding for the project, and last month Senate appropriators announced they would discontinue funding for the project in their fiscal 2015 funding bill that has since stalled.

The House Energy-Water bill would provide continued funding, though members remain wary.

“These management problems need to be overcome,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. “Or we need to have a serious look at whether we’ll continue pouring money into the project.” Rohrabacher argued that funding for the project might be better spent on small modular reactors.

“What we really need is to have an integrated team with strong leadership and effective project systems that allows us to cooperate and achieve our mutual goals,” Sauthoff said.

  • Jesse4

    As far as carbon emissions go, fusion will never do any good.
    By the time fusion matters, the carbon dioxide will be in the air, and fossil fuels will be mostly obsolete.

  • Stoli89

    However, fission energy derived from the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor, has already been prototyped and successfully run for 5 years back in the late 60′s. It was killed off by Nixon in favor of a more weapons friendly fast spectrum breeder program. The Chinese are pursuing LFTR now, with 500 engineers resurrecting US designs in order to commercialize the tech within 10 years. At unsubsidized costs/BTU that rival coal, inherently safe designs that cannot produce TMI, Chernobyl, nor Fukushima and extreme low levels of waste creation…this zero carbon emitter is the silver bullet for the 21st century and for tens of thousands of years beyond.
    Funny how a tech that was promoted by Eugene Wigner, Ed Teller, Alwin Weinberg is not even mentioned by our corporate media.

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