Fusion Wins Reprieve

House ignores Obama, grants required fusion research budget, but it will not be over until after the elections.

Last week, we saw an astounding finish to the congressional budget assignments.  Rather than finding its coffin lid nailed closed, at this point, home-based fusion energy research seems to come out ahead in the annual sweepstakes.

David Malakoff posted in last Wednesday’s Science Insider (2012-Apr25) that, in its decisions on the 2013 budget that afternoon, the House Appropriations Committee awarded U.S. fusion energy research enough funding to continue as it has functioned to date.  This action explicitly dismissed Obama’s recommendation to kill most fusion research work.

LastTechAge earlier reported that the Obama administration was intent on eliminating the high field Alcator C-Mod program at MIT, one of our lead fusion science laboratories and one of our key locations for professional fusion physics education.

Obama’s budget would have damaged (maybe ultimately terminated) our efforts at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, reduced to a laughable level the operating time on the DIII-D user facility at General Atomics, and would not have supplied sufficient funds to meet anticipated increases of our international obligations with the international tokamak program (ITER). This would have closed this path to an energy future; for American scientists, it would probably terminate, forever.

The House committee extended and even raised current funding to allow fusion experiments and graduate student training to continue. It explicitly saved the Alcator program, raised funding to maintain our professional research labs at Princeton and General Atomics, and mandated the necessary funds to pay our dues in support of ITER.

Our earlier post warned of the danger we face if the original attack succeeded. It attracted unusual (for this site) interest, including comments with links to the real heroes of this story, the young men and women who set up fusionfuture.org, and advocated public pressure on the politicians.  The authors of this site are mostly (maybe entirely?) graduate students who truly want to keep our society from dying an energy death and regressing deeper into medieval lifestyle.

click for list of MFE posts in LastTechAge

It is interesting to see the public response to this action. When we last looked, there were 3 comments from anonymous no-nothings whose comments sound like talk-radio rants.  For those who care,  magnetic fusion energy (MFE) research has been at the brink of success for about 25 years, being held back by a strange lack of interest in national leadership.  LastTechAge commented on this before.

click for list of ICF posts in LastTechAge

Before anyone suggests (again) that we go to cool laser fusion, please read LastTechAge comments on NIF and inertial confinement fusion (ICF).  We are not really pursuing that, either. There is a lot of mouth-noise in support of fusion, but this is really support of the dreamy sci-fiction books that used to paint lovely pictures of it.  Reality is that MFE, at least in its House budget incarnation, is being funded at less than 1/3 its 1981 budget when compared in inflation adjusted values.

Final note:  It’s not over yet.  The House Committee decisions are not the rule of the land.  We almost certainly will not see the end until after the November elections, even though the budget starts in October.  AND:  This budget is being played as a zero sum game.  By mandating more money here, the Department of Energy must reduce its support elsewhere.   I feel bad about that, but if every program currently  being supported were actually covertly slated to be discarded just as it reaches success, the truth must be that the U.S. has no energy research program.

Update: Read Jeffrey Mervis’  ScienceInsider report  on the Administration’s budget posture (2012-0427).


Charles J. Armentrout, Ann Arbor
2012 May 02
Listed under   Technology   …   Technology >  MFE
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About LastTechAge

I am a physicist with years of work in fusion labs, industry labs, and teaching (physics and math). I have watched the tech scene, watched societal trends and am alarmed. My interest is to help us all improve or maintain that which we worked so hard to achieve.
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