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Over the past 50 years or so tens of billions of dollars have been spent on nuclear fusion research, yet just as some projects are beginning to get into their stride doubts are growing and funding is under threat; especially from the US.
After failing to achieve break-even last year, the fusion reactor being developed at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's National Ignition Facility (NIF), is now under threat of having its funding cut, and congress is also reconsidering the contribution that it had promised to the international ITER fusion project in France.
On one hand the frustration at spending so much for so little in return is understandable, especially when the progress in the field of nuclear fusion is compared to that of other developing energy sources such as solar and wind.
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But Daniel Clery, the author of “A Piece of the Sun” about nuclear fusion research, pleaded for patience, stating that “nobody said it was going to be easy. But just because it's hard doesn't mean it's not worth doing. The potential rewards are so great, how can we not try?”
It was hoped that the NIF would achieve ignition in 2010, meaning that more energy was produced from the reaction than was used to create it; but last year the facilities operators had to admit that their reactor was still not functioning as they had predicted.
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A report from the National Research Council said that it was still worth pursuing the research, but Obama’s administration is trying to end support for the NIF. Senator Dianne Feinstein, stated that it is now hard to justify the $486.6 million budget requested by the laboratory in light of its recent failures to meet its goals.
Ed Moses, principal associate director for Livermore Lab's NIF, accepted the government’s attitude, saying that “it’s never a smooth ride, especially in times like this, when budgets are so tight for federal projects,” but also asked for patience, reminding us that “this is one of the most challenging scientific and technical problems that big science has ever taken on.”
By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com
James Burgess studied Business Management at the University of Nottingham. He has worked in property development, chartered surveying, marketing, law, and accounts. He has also…