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Funding Disappears for Nuclear Fusion Following Poor Progress

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.

Related article: Nuclear Energy Innovation is Vital for Slowing Climate Change

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.

Related article: Chernobyl’s Trees Pose a Huge Environmental Threat

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

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  • Rod Baker on September 23 2013 said:
    Fusion research has been going on for many decades now. The investment in America has been huge. Lack of progress in Magnetic confinement and laser confinement has been disappointing and it is understandable that in tough economic times funding is hard to come by. Yet we continue to spend lavishly on space programs and cosmology projects such as "gravity waves". When you look at R&D priorities, fusion still is at the top of the list because it would mean so much to our economy and lives. We need to pick the likey winners based on the best advice available but fusion should remain a priority! Rod Baker
  • Mark Uhran on June 28 2013 said:
    Funding has not "disappeared for fusion research following poor progress". This is a grossly premature conclusion based on the NIF situation at LLNL, which is indeed unfortunate, and recent Congressional concerns over producing the equivalent of a fixed price estimate for US contributions to the global ITER Project.

    In fact, global domestic investments (China, Japan, India and S. Korea) in magnetic confined fusion testing facilities are increasing significantly. In addition, these nations in partnership with Europe, Russia and the US are also increasing their investment levels in the ITER Project -- a 500 MW industrial-scale reactor that is already rising up out of the ground in Cadarache, France (see: www.tier.org).

    As for "poor progress", the triple confinement product for hydrogen fusion at higher and higher temperatures has been steadily increasing in pace with Moore's Law. Supercomputing and contemporary diagnostics have advanced the science of magnetic confined fusion to the point of engineering demonstration. Nations worldwide would not be increasing their investment levels were this not the case.

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