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establishing the knowledge base for fusion energy.
2 An essential tool to unravel the complexities of plasma dynamics is a strong theory program. For several decades, the United States has played a dominant role in plasma theory. The quantitative detail in which experiments are designed and executed in the United States has become a benchmark for the rest of the world. However, the close interaction between the U.S. and international programs since the 1950s makes it difficult to separate the U.S. contributions from those of other countries.
Mutual reinforcement of theory and experiment, strong international leadership, and discovery of fundamental principles are hallmarks of a successful scientific enterprise. The committee concludes, therefore, that the quality of the science funded by the United States fusion research program in pursuit of a practical source of power from fusion (the fusion energy goal) is easily on a par with the quality in other leading areas of contemporary physical science.
However, in spite of the high quality of the science being carried out, some serious demographic and sociological problems—caused in part by programmatic emphasis and in part by organizational structures—must be addressed. As outlined in the interim report
3 of the committee, there is a history of intellectual interchange between the fusion plasma community and the broader scientific community. Nevertheless, the increasing focus on the fusion energy goal prior to 1996 gradually caused the fusion program to become too inward looking and therefore intellectually isolated from the rest of science— fusion science was not seen as a generator of ideas impacting other scientific disciplines. While many of the scientific challenges that must be overcome in pursuit of the energy goal are sufficiently important to have a potentially broad impact on other branches of science, most scientists funded by the program do not actively participate in the wider scientific culture. As a result, the flow of scientific information out of and into the field is weak. New ideas and techniques developed in allied fields are slow to percolate into the program. Nor is the high-quality science in the program widely appreciated outside the field. Indeed, the broader scientific community holds a generally negative view of fusion science. This isolation, combined with the generally negative perception of the field, is reducing the number of universities and laboratories where plasma and fusion science is being studied to a degree that endangers the future of plasma science. The proportion of the program based on open, competitive, peer-reviewed grants is small, which discourages the entry of new talent into the field and further increases the isolation.
The committee believes that a dynamic, outward-looking, science-driven program in which discoveries are regularly communicated beyond the walls of fusion science is essential to alter the outside community's perception of the field. A strong case can also be made that a program organized around critical science goals will also maximize progress toward a practical fusion power source. Scientific discoveries that a decade ago would have been unthinkable are the fundamental drivers of program direction at all levels (see the third finding in
Chapter 2 ). Thus, scientific discovery is inherently coupled with progress toward fusion, and the two should not be considered opposing forces.