Fusion, the process that powers the Sun, has long been seen as the "holy grail" of energy production. The U.S. is now in a nuclear innovation renaissance, building upon substantial R&D investments and technology advancements over the last seventy years. Now, more than at any point in history, break-even fusion energy production seems achievable within a decade, with commercial-scale fusion generation available sometime within the next decade or two. We have therefore reached a critical juncture, as we now must ask: how is fusion—and how should it be—regulated?
This paper addresses in detail the issue of fusion regulation. We examine key questions pertaining to the regulation of fusion, such as who is responsible for regulating it and how should they regulate. In particular, while the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has maintained it has regulatory jurisdiction over fusion, a key question is how its jurisdiction should be applied. The NRC manages many frameworks under which a wide variety of radioactive materials are regulated, and the regulatory category that fusion facilities ultimately find themselves in will greatly affect their overall regulatory burden.
We propose near- and long-term recommendations as to the regulatory path forward for fusion. These recommendations recognize the effectiveness of current regulations to provide for public health and safety during fusion development and demonstration. To the extent a future regulatory framework is needed at commercial scale, such a framework should consider that the radiological concerns involved with fusion differ significantly from those with fission. It may seem attractive to lump fusion in the same category as fission—but that would be a mistake with far-reaching consequences for fusion innovation, U.S. technological leadership, and the planet.
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