NYT: Funding for Fusion in Question

Thanks to Joe Shea for pointing out a New York Times article published today which discusses the future of a giant laser used in the US National Nuclear Security Administration’s fusion project. Funding for the laser runs out today, and more funds will need to be allocated by Congress in order to keep the project going.

The problem is that the project’s goal of producing controlled fusion that would provide a new source of cheap and abundant energy by creating a ‘tiny star’ on earth has so far failed. The laser, located at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, is supposed to be able to create fusion by targeting tiny beads of hydrogen fuel, setting off a controllable fusion reaction. So far, this has not happened, and in order to get more funds, the laser team is going to have to send a report to Congress explaining why there has been no success so far, and why more funding is justifed.

Officers at the project were interviewed for the article, and offered some comments:

“It’s like having a cure for cancer by a certain date,” said Penrose C. Albright, the laboratory’s director. “I understand why people want to have milestones. But when you’re dealing with science and Mother Nature, all you really can do is agree on whether you’re on the right path . . . ”

“Contrary to what some people say, this has been a spectacular success,” said Edward Moses, the laser’s director. Even so, he added, “science on schedule is a hard thing to do”

A more sober assessment was made by Stephen Bodner, a former director of a laser project at the Naval Research Laboratory:

The question is whether you continue to pour money into it or start over,I think they’re in real trouble and that continuing the funding at the current level makes no sense

According to the article the laser project has so far cost $5 billion. Readers here may wonder what even a tiny fraction of that price tag might be able to do for the development of cold fusion technology which seems to be far less complex, and able to deliver results here and now. Perhaps over time there will be more interest from the scientific community and politicians — and hopefully also the New York Times.

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