100 Congressmen Tell Obama Admin. to Back Nuclear Fusion Research
August 17, 2012 • 11:22AM

On Aug. 3, 100 Congressmen sent a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, on the need to get rid of the "burdensome bureaucracy" that is threatening the ongoing successful R&D work on achieving nuclear fusion, at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Their term "bureaucracy" is a polite expression for the impediments perpetrated by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which the letter condemns as imposing "administrative, managerial and budgetary hurdles."

Such anti-science practices by the Obama Administration are coherent with the fact that Obama also called for crippling budget cuts to the U.S. domestic fusion research program, in his 2013 budget proposal, released in February. Obama's fusion budget cuts will shut down one of the three major research facilities at MIT, the Alcator C-Mod, which is the largest single U.S. training facility for students in the field. This will set back scientific research, as LPAC's Peter Martinson warned on the Aug. 15 LPAC TV Weekly Report.

In February, Obama proposed cutting the already paltry annual fusion budget line (in 2011 and 2012), down from $401 million, to $353 million for 2013, by both trimming off $3 million outright (down to $398), then calling for a sneak-diversion of another $45 million, away from the U.S. domestic programs (at Lawrence Livermore, MIT, Princeton, etc.), and sending the funds to the Europe-based ITER project, to meet international obligations for co-funding fusion research! So-called Science Adviser Holdren defended this, saying it was focusing resources on "burning plasma", and allowing domestic programs to revert from "research status," down to "routine operations in support of stockpile stewardship."

Scientists raised alarms, and formed a petition drive against this treason. A bi-partisan group of 48 House members, led by Rush Holt (D-N.J.) and Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), conducted a drive for fusion R&D support, culminating in June, when the House of Representatives authorized $76 million to the Department of Energy fusion budget line, exceeding the $53 million Obama proposed removing. But the Senate remains in support of the Obama cuts.

The Aug. 3 letter was spearheaded by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-California), and is signed by lawmakers cross-country. It points out that, "NIF recently achieved a major milestone: the world's first successful firing of a 500 terawatt laser. While technical challenges remain to be solved before ignition is achieved, this milestone demonstrates major progress and provides even greater capability to address the remaining challenges. Recent technical reviews by independent experts indicate that there are not fundamental technical reasons that would preclude eventually achieving ignition."

The letter then states, "It would be severely disappointing to get so close to a tremendous scientific breakthrough — fusion ignition at NIF — only to see it prevented by bureaucracy. We must not let science be stifled by bureacracy." Rep. Lofgren's office refers science-supporters to a forthcoming National Academy of Sciences report on "The Quality of the Management and of the Science and Engineering Research at the Department of Energy's National Security Laboratories." The report is available on line. www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13367

Lofgren is a backer of the HR 1489 bill to re-instate Glass-Steagall — a gateway to setting up a full credit system for economic activity and scientific advance, and she is also a collaborator of Holt and Frelinghuysen, for bi-partisan support for all the U.S. domestic fusion projects.