Rep. Mike McCormack (D-Wash.), chairman of the house subcommittee on energy research, said yesterday he has asked President Carter to make it a national goal to demonstrate by the end of the century that electricity can be generated by thermonuclear fusion.
"We ought to do it along the lines of the Apollo program that put men on the moon," McCormack said at a news briefing in the Rayburn House Office Building."There is no technological reason why the engineering feasibility of fusion cannot be demonstrated by 1995 or 2000, at the latest."
While McCormack said he had not spoken personally to Carter about committing the country to the development of fusion, he said he has spoken to White House science adviser Frank Press and presidential assistant Stuart Eizenstat about his proposal and that they passed it on to Carter.
"I will write the president a formal letter today proposing that he accelerate our fusion program with an Apollo-type aproach to it," McCormack said, "but I know he already has the proposal in his hands. He has read it, I know he has read it."
McCormack said that if the president commits the country to an accelerated fusion program, it will cost $20 billion over the next 10 years. McCormack said he has suggested increasing spending on fusion research to $600 million in fiscal 1981 and then spending about $1 billion a year to reach the goal of fusion power by 2000.
"I'll even settle for the $405 million I understand has been proposed for fusion research this coming year." McCormack said. "as long as we get a commitment to fusion."
McCormack said the country should decide now to build a $1 billion Engineering Test Facility to demonstrate that there are no physical obstacles to fusion. He said a machine to do that could be built by 1986, which would then lead to a pilot fusion plant and to a decision by 1992 to build a demonstration plant to generate electricity from fusion.
Fusion involves the joining of light elements like deuterium and tritium under such terrific force that they release heat of as much as 100 million degrees. Taming this heat, confining it in a machine for minutes or even hours on end, is the goal of fusion research that has gone on for more than 20 years in the United States at a cost of more than $4 billion.
In experiments at Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, scientists have managed to join deuterium and tritium where they reach temperatures of 70 million degress for a time far in excess of what scientists say they must reach to sustain the fusion reaction.
A machine called the Tokomak Fusion Test Reactor being built at Princeton is expected to be the first machine to demonstrate the scientific feasibility of fusion. Expected to be ready to begin operating in 1982, the reactor would use giant magnets to confine the superheated deuterium and tritium gas and keep it from touching the walls of the machine, where it could lose its heat. Confinement of the 100 million degree heats of fusion is one of the key experiments to be done.