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Nuclear Fusion Funds on Chopping Block

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It’s a dream many scientists have been pursuing for decades, but for some of them, President Obama’s proposal for next year’s pared-down budget marks a step backward. The Washington Post reports that the president’s budget request cuts domestic fusion research by 16 percent, or $48 million. That would mean the closure of a Department of Energy-backed fusion lab at MIT, and a staff reduction at another lab at Princeton University.

Obama isn’t proposing cutting funding for fusion overall. The $48 million would go to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). ITER is based in the south of France and backed by the European Union, Russian, China, India, South Korea and Japan, as well as the U.S. The project’s estimated costs total $23 billion, a figure that has risen over the years as its start date has been pushed back.

The European Union, facing more severe budget constraints than the U.S., has also proposed cutting other programs to keep funding ITER.

Nuclear fusion — the process that powers the stars — is exactly the reverse of the nuclear fission that runs today’s nuclear power plants. Instead of splitting atoms, it fuses them together. The energy results from the conversion of some of the mass of the original atoms into energy.

Scientists developing the technology say that, used as an energy source, fusion would be safer and more powerful than fission and would create far less nuclear waste.

Yet the technology is still far from commercialization. Some estimate ITER could produce energy for the grid in 2040, and other say it will take much longer than that. Another project working toward fusion technology, the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, claims it may be able to run the first fusion-based electrical plant in the country — but not until at least the 2020s.


3 Comments on "Nuclear Fusion Funds on Chopping Block"

  1. SilentRunning on Thu, 28th Jun 2012 1:45 am 

    Sadly, it looks another prediction of Peak Oil is true: As the oil output declines, the economy shrinks and we won’t have the resources to pursue the technologies needed to keep human society running.

  2. DC on Thu, 28th Jun 2012 2:42 am 

    IF we ‘need’ fusion to keep society running, then we really are screwed aren’t we? 3 million years of human evolution, and we did all w/o fusion, fission, or solar sats , or cold-fusion or w/e. We dont need more technology to keep humanity a going concern, rather we need quite a bit less of it. Most technology(not all-just most) makes us fat, lazy, and rather stupid. Or put another way, it tends to turn people into amerikans over time. We cant be all that intelligent as a species, we ignore or marginalize comparatively benign techs like solar and wind that are proven and work NOW and are affordable, but instead prefer to pin all our hopes on trillion dollar techs that might be ready by 2050, if society doesnt collapse in the meantime trying to perfect it.

  3. BillT on Thu, 28th Jun 2012 4:12 am 

    Dc, the energy addicts don’t see their demise coming. They don’t realize that it is not lack of anything that is in control but the means to finance the development/production that is gone. The West is operating on debt, not production. There is no money for anything except to keep the 1% happy.

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