January 14, 2000

Dr. Charles Baker

Virtual Laboratory for Technology

Building UCTR 302

University of California at San Diego

9500 Gilman Drive

La Jolla, CA 92037-0035

Dear Charlie,

On December 15 - 16, 1999 the VLT PAC met at the Sandia National Laboratory. As a result of the VLT presentations and the PAC discussions, we offer the following input in the areas of advanced design, the next step options study, IFE technology, plasma technology, and peer review.

Advanced Design

The PAC heard description of recent VLT work, including the ARIES advanced tokamak study, investigation of the non-electric uses of fusion, and studies of fusion’s role in a sustainable energy future (socioeconomic studies). The ARIES-AT study has been very productive; recent results illustrate pointedly the positive impact that technological advances outside of the fusion program have on the realization of a fusion power plant. This may indicate that the fusion community would benefit by communicating the needs of fusion energy to other research communities, such as those working on high temperature superconductors. The socioeconomic studies have consisted of several distinct, small investigations. It does not appear that these investigations have been well coordinated or synthesized. At our next meeting, the PAC would be pleased to hear reports on some of these individual activities.

Future plans call for completion of the studies of AT power plants and non-electric uses of fusion. The PAC agrees with this assessment. Plans for FY 00 were presented, assuming a budget of $2M. At this level the intention of the VLT group is to allocate $1.5M for an IFE systems study and $0.5M for socioeconomic studies. Were more funds available, systems studies for non-tokamak MFE concepts would be pursued. The PAC agrees with the startup of the IFE system study. We encourage the ARIES team to engage appropriate experts beyond the core ARIES team, as they have done in past work.

The socioeconomic studies are intended to involve a variety of fusion researchers who, through their own studies of the role of fusion energy in a sustainable energy future, will become integrated into the larger energy and environmental communities. The PAC contains a variety of views on this initiative. Hence, we recommend that the socioeconomic study be initiated on a smaller scale than that proposed. This can demonstrate, on a small scale, the feasibility of penetration into the energy community, and thereby lay the basis for implementation of the full plan. The smaller scale effort should be clarified at our next meeting, and work should be allocated according to competitive peer review.

If funds are available (either through the reduced startup of the socioeconomic study or otherwise), then targeted system studies of specific components of non-tokamak MFE concepts should be investigated as an important element of the program.

Next Step Option Studies

Studies of next step options (NSO) for a major experiment is an activity of high leverage which affects the future direction of the U.S. fusion program. Selection of the direction for the NSO study is a responsibility of the fusion community (perhaps through FESAC), beyond the purview of the VLT PAC. Hence, we confine our comments to the status and plans of the present embodiment of the NSO - the FIRE pre-conceptual design study.

FIRE has been a focused, fast-paced study of outstanding quality. The project has articulated key issues which should be addressed in the near term design effort. As the project is intending, and as recommended by the Snowmass study and elsewhere, it is important to incorporate AT features into a self-consistent design. This will allow quantitative assessment of the trade-off between AT features and the burning plasma physics goal. We recommend that the VLT assemble a program advisory committee, to provide interim advice towards the middle of this fiscal year, and that this PAC include members from the international community. We also recommend a separate review of the physics, engineering, and initial cost estimates of the FIRE design before the end of the fiscal year.

IFE Technology

The new IFE technology endeavor is off to a good start. The IFE community has developed a technology plan for the chamber, target design, target fabrication, target injection, and safety and environmental aspects in conjunction with the driver and target designs. The objective is to pursue an integrated program plan that develops the technologies in concert with one another. The key issues are being addressed with high priority. There is an appropriate mix of experimental, theoretical, and technological features. The committee appreciates the existing close interaction between the IFE technological studies and the system study, and recommends this continue.

Plasma Technology

Past work in this area has been excellent, with numerous recent success stories in which technological development has enabled key physics advances in the major fusion experiments. The VLT has begun slightly to expand this effort beyond tokamak application. We encourage acceleration of this expansion.

For application to the tokamak in particular, a compelling set of high level challenges has been assembled. We encourage an expanded articulation of the strategy, including non-tokamak applications, to implement these high level goals. We would be pleased to receive the strategy at our next meeting, focusing mainly on the level of detail intermediate between the one-slide statement of the high level goals and very fine-scale itemization.

Peer Review

The PAC was presented with a draft plan for peer review of the technology program. The philosophy and goals of the plan - true competitive review - are excellent. We offer several recommendations regarding the strategy to achieve these goals. The plan describes two types of peer review - isolated review of the ongoing progress of existing projects, and "competitive" review in which projects and proposals are judged simultaneously, such that comparisons can be made. Both types of review are necessary. The draft plan calls for ongoing projects to be exempted from competitive review if they are judged by the VLT director to be "superior and unique." The PAC does not support this exemption. No project should be permanently exempt from competitive peer review. The frequency at which an ongoing project must enter a competitive review is a judgment of the DOE, and should be informed by input from the VLT director. Generally, the larger the project the less frequent the competitive peer review. We support the involvement of the VLT director as a facilitator of the review process.

The challenge of maintaining funding availability for new starts in times of non-increasing budgets is a difficult one. We recommend that this be accomplished by initiating solicited competitive peer reviews in different topical areas in different years. We believe that this is preferable to an annual tax on all projects. In addition to the topical solicitations, technological innovation should also be encouraged through solicitations with no topical constraints. Indeed, the solicitations for FY 00 are extremely well-defined in category; a modest flexibility in the topical distribution of funding would be appropriate.

These comments are our initial reaction to a developing plan; we encourage the VLT to continue to engage the PAC as these plan evolve further.

The VLT presentations at PAC meetings are consistently of high quality and high relevance. However, in view of the time limitations of our meetings we would recommend, for future meetings, that the talks minimize historical information and detail, in favor of future plans and milestones. As a guide, speakers should generally allow about one-third of their allocated time to discussion.

Of course, limitations with respect to historical information do not apply to presentations about the local program. Indeed, we found the information and tours of the Sandia Laboratory projects to be fascinating and useful. We look forward to visiting other VLT sites, and anticipate that our next meeting will be in June at Oak Ridge.





Stewart Prager

on behalf of the VLT PAC

(membership attached)



















David Baldwin

General Atomics

Roger Bangerter

Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory

Grant Logan

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Robert Goldston

Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

Michael Mauel

Columbia University

Stanley Milora

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Miklos Porkolab

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

John Sethian

Naval Research Laboratory

Stewart Prager

University of Wisconsin

Richard Siemon

Los Alamos National Laboratory

Keith Thomassen

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory