SCIENCE magazine and the LA
Times report that the Obama administration’s 2013 budget will slash
domestic fusion energy research and will cut 20% from JPL’s planetary
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will
instead help fund research at ITER, a multi-national fusion program in
France. Martin Greenwald of MIT, chairman of the Fusion Energy
Scientific Advisory Committee (“FESAC”), said the administration’s plan
amounted to “building a piece of equipment for other people to use.”
Fusion is the holy grail of advanced
energy research. It holds the promise of producing energy as nature does
in stars — 40 million times more efficiently than burning coal, and
with no chemical pollution, no greenhouse gases, and no radioactive
waste. Every advanced country in the world is actively pursuing fusion
energy, except it seems the U.S.
said William Brinkman, director of DOE’s Office of Science asked FESAC
to consider sending U.S. scientists and students to China and South
Korea, because those countries have built new fusion facilities.
SCIENCE said the administration’s plan “exports the country’s most valuable resource: knowledge.”
The cuts will virtually eliminate the
U.S. as a serious contender in fusion research. The most advanced U.S.
facility, the C-Mod at MIT, will be shut down, with the loss of 130
research scientists and graduate students. Its director expressed shock:
“I didn’t have the vaguest idea of what was coming.” The program at
Princeton will lose 100 researchers and its machine will be inoperative
until at least 2015.
The only remaining U.S. fusion program,
the DIII-D at General Atomics in San Diego, will lose 30 jobs and
machine operation will be cut to 10 weeks per year. Tony Taylor, the VP
in charge, says: “It makes no sense to ship our intellectual capital
overseas and make ourselves less competitive.”
The $300 million cut at NASA/Caltech’s
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) — undoubtedly the world leader in space
research — will cost “hundreds of jobs.” Scientist Jim Bell said: “It is
nothing less than a shocking set of cuts.” JPL has already been forced
to cancel space research projects, including a mission to bring Martian
soil samples back to Earth and a mission to Europa, Jupiter’s
ice-covered moon. While the administration’s currently stated goal for
NASA is sending astronauts to Mars within 20 years, one JPL official
expressed skepticism since we can’t seem to afford to bring back even
For most of the last century, the U.S.
was the unquestioned world leader in most fields of science. Our
scientific leadership drove a broad spectrum of economic advances, and
ensured that our military could defend our freedom from any threat.
Bright young scientists came to America to study, to innovate, and to
strengthen our nation. Now, our government is conceding leadership in
several frontier sciences and suggests we send our brightest students
and scientists to Europe and Asia, where there are nations eager to
become the new centers of science excellence. The plan seems to be to
reverse the “brain drain” that frustrated many foreign nations in the
By eliminating U.S. fusion research and
cutting JPL, DOE will save about $350 million, slightly more than half
of what they squandered on Solyendra, the now-bankrupt solar panel
In his 2011 State of the Union address,
President Obama proclaimed the U.S. faces a “Sputnik Moment”, when we
must commit to greater investments in science and advanced technologies
to ensure America’s future as a world leader. Yet his administration has
shut down the Stanford Linear Accelerator, the Fermi National
Accelerator, manned-space flights, domestic fusion research, and will
substantially reduce our leading space science program.
If we eliminate U.S. jobs in the advanced sciences, how many of our bright minds will return after being sent to train abroad?
April 5th, 2012
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