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A new fusion caucus

Illustration of a road leading to a glowing atom on the horizon

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

The Senate is getting its own fusion energy caucus.

Why it matters: It could boost support for the big federal funding that the industry wants to help it commercialize its technologies over the next decade.

Driving the news: Sen. Martin Heinrich will lead the caucus with a yet-to-be-determined Republican co-chair.

  • Initial members include Todd Young, Kirsten Gillibrand and Angus King.
  • Heinrich held an early launch event last week with a few other Senate Democrats and members of the House Fusion Caucus.
  • "What our role should be is in thinking through how DOE can accelerate, shorten timelines, be a good partner to private-sector industry," Heinrich told Axios as he sat in his antler-lined Hart office.

Zoom in: The fusion industry wants Congress to focus more on commercialization funding and materials science for fusion.

  • Part of the conversation on the Hill, Heinrich said, is about how to make that shift, with many existing programs at DOE focused on earlier-stage science.
  • "When you look at the capital that's moved into fusion as a business model, you can tell that we're starting to make that transition from physics to engineering," he said.

Of note: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission last year voted to regulate fusion differently than that for conventional fission reactors, which could enable fusion projects to get licensed much more quickly.

  • Members of the House caucus have a bill to codify that decision, and Heinrich said he's "looking at" a potential Senate companion.
  • "I think we should put that decision into permanent law," he said.
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