Nature reports on U.S. fusion budget squeeze

Mike Garrett

In a July 24, 2012, article in the journal Nature, Eric Hand reports on the domestic fusion budget squeeze imposed by U.S. commitments to ITER.  The article can be found here.

While the U.S. contribution to ITER has remained at 9%, the corresponding expenditure has exploded as projected costs for ITER have more than quadrupled.  “But as ITER payments increase, U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2013 budget proposal for the DOE would chop Alcator’s allocation back to $16 million, shutting down operations and forcing the experiment to lay off more than half of its 120 staff members.”

Leaders of the three tokamak experiments in the U.S. (MIT: Alcator C-Mod, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL): NSTX, and General Atomics: DIII-D) point to the unique science accessible in each device as rationale for continuing operation.  Stewart Prager, director of PPPL, provides another argument for maintaining all of these facilities: “If the United States is to spend all this money on ITER, he says, then it must maintain domestic plasma-science expertise that can take advantage of what is learned there. “Otherwise, the results from ITER will only benefit the rest of the world.”

Some members of the U.S. Congress are listening to these arguments.  On June 6, 2012, the House of Representatives voted to maintain domestic fusion funding at roughly 2012 levels, while increasing support for ITER.  However, the Senate’s energy appropriations bill agrees with the cuts proposed by the Obama administration.

About Geoff Olynyk

Ph.D student in plasma physics and fusion energy. Originally from Burlington, Ontario, Canada.
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