Scientists Fight to Save the U.S. Fusion Program from Obama
March 4, 2012 • 10:13AM

Faced with Obama's virtual dismantling of the U.S. fusion energy program, the scientific community is organizing a fight to reverse the drastic cuts proposed in the White House's FY13 budget. The nearly $50 million in cuts in world-class national laboratory and university-based fusion experiments has been proposed so the U.S. can meet its obligation as a partner in the International Thermonuclear Experimetal Reactor (ITER) being built in France. As Steve Dean points out, the $150 million proposed for ITER doesn't even cover the U.S. commitments anyway, which would require $200 million. And to trade off the U.S. experiments to pay for ITER makes participation in ITER senseless.

On Feb. 27th, seven senior members of the fusion community sent a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Science (sic) Advisor John Holdren, saying the proposed budget would "demote the U.S. program to a second-tier player in the world fusion effort." The $49 million cut to domestic programs would "result in the layoff of hundreds of fusion scientists, engineers, graduate students, and support personnel." And these are the very people who presumably would do experiments on ITER, when it is completed. In an article in the Feb. 24th issue of Science magazine, Martin Greenwald, chair of the DOE Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee, says that contributing to ITER is only reasonable in the context of a healthy domestic fusion program. "Otherwise you're just building a piece of equipment for other people to use."

To deal with this budgetary "train wreck," it has been proposed that the research that won't be done from the machines being shut down here, be done overseas, on the South Korean and Chinese tokamaks! thereby exporting our brains.

A senior student in the Department of Nuclear Science & Engineering at MIT wrote a column for MIT's The Tech on the proposed shutdown of MIT's Alcator C-Mod tokamak. That will mean the loss of 30 graduate students, 40 undergrads, and over 400 other direct and indirect positions, he reports. Scientists have created a website, http://www.fusionfuture.org, with sample letters to send to Congress, with a link to a petition to reverse the cuts. There is also a Facebook group, Save Alcator C-Mod.

But there is no solution within the fusion program itself, or any other trade-off in the Federal budget. Only an expunged President and a new economic policy can provide that.