Physics Today reports on the budget challenges of the domestic fusion program

Evan M. Davis

Toni Feder of Physics Today has written an article (gated access) discussing the budgetary challenges facing the U.S. domestic fusion program.

In the effort to pay for the international ITER reactor on a fixed budget, the President’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2013 cuts approximately $50 million from the U.S. domestic fusion program. This cut will result in the loss of hundreds of U.S. jobs, the closure of MIT’s Alcator C-Mod reactor, reduced experimental time and delayed upgrades on the US’s other flagship fusion reactors; General Atomics’ DIII-D and Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory’s (PPPL) NSTX.

Earl Marmar, director of the C-Mod facility, notes that the proposed cuts were “abrupt” and in the “absence of peer review, community input, or a FESAC plan”. The lack of representation and a long-term plan is particularly troubling to much of the community, which fears the rest of the domestic program may, like C-Mod, be cut in the coming years to meet ITER commitments.

Steven Cowley, director of the U.K. fusion program, is not directly affected by the U.S. fusion budgetary crisis, but he states, “If you don’t have physics experiments, then you won’t have the people who are part of the physics team to operate ITER”.

Much of the U.S. fusion community believes that if the President’s budget is approved, what remains of the domestic program will not be robust enough to adequately train an ITER-relevant workforce or substantially contribute to and benefit from ITER.

Despite facing similar economic challenges as those seen in the U.S., Europe is on track with its ITER obligations. Further, China is aggressively pursuing its own domestic fusion program in addition to meeting its ITER obligations. PPPL director, Stewart Prager, admonishes that “the U.S. is the weakest link” of the ITER consortium.

Capitalizing on our ITER investment requires a strong domestic fusion program. In turn, maintaining a strong domestic program requires an overhaul of the President’s proposed fusion budget. Please write your elected officials about the importance of maintaining a strong domestic fusion program here!

About Geoff Olynyk

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