Grounded in continuous progress, the world is now at a major decision point how to go forward with the exploration of a burning plasma, dominated by the self-heating from the fusion reactions.

The ITER participating countries have already since a long time, chosen ITER as their preferred approach. The US instead has been debating since 1999 which way to go. Mid July, for two weeks, the US Fusion community gathered in Snowmass, Co., to take a major decision about which burning plasma experiment to support. This place has been traditionally used by scientists from other fields to recess for an in-depth discussion of long-term programmatic issues. The combination of healthy mountain air and seclusion has been observed to foster a spirit of togetherness and optimism, and this effect seems to have worked once again! The major conclusions, which were developed by the participants during the 2002 Fusion Summer meeting are summarized below.

The study of burning plasmas, in which self-heating from fusion reaction dominates plasma behavior, is at the frontier of magnetic fusion energy science. The next major step in magnetic fusion research should be a burning plasma programme, which is essential to the science focus and energy goal of fusion research.

The three experiments proposed to achieve burning plasma operation range from compact, high field, copper magnet devices to a reactor-scale superconducting-magnet device. These approaches address a spectrum of both physics and fusion technology issues, and vary widely in overall mission, schedule and cost.

The contribution from IGNITOR, FIRE and ITER , the three candidate machines would differ considerably.

There is confidence that both ITER and FIRE will achieve burning plasma performance in H-mode based on an extensive experimental data base. The capabilities of IGNITOR, instead, remain an unresolved issue between the assessors and the IGNITOR team.

The results of the meeting, as analysed from a European point of view, were very positive. At the end of the meeting there was great enthusiasm among the community present to re-join the ITER process as a full partner. The output of this meeting will be the basis for a proposal to the US President to be prepared by FESAC (Fusion Energy Science Advisory Committee) at its meeting on September, 11.

Snow what?

The participants of the 2002 Fusion Summer Study in Snowmass (Colorado) reached majorconclusions regarding the approach that the US should pursue to explore in the field of burning plasmas. These conclusions were based on analysis led by over 40 convenors working with hundreds of members of the fusion community extending over 8 months. This effort culminated in two weeks of intense discussion by over 250 US and 30 foreign fusion physicists and engineers present at the 2002 Fusion Summer Study.

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The next FESAC Burning Plasma Strategy Panel Meeting has taken place on August 6-8, 2002 in Austin, Texas.