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The Almighty Buck Power United States Science

Good News For US Fusion Research 149

zrbyte writes "Fusion research would get a major boost in a Department of Energy (DOE) spending bill approved today by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations. The panel rejected an Obama Administration proposal to cut funding for domestic fusion research in the 2013 fiscal year, which begins 1 October. It would also give more money than requested to an international collaboration building the ITER fusion reactor in France. This will allow the Alcator C-Mod fusion facility at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge to be kept open, which the Administration had proposed closing."
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Good News For US Fusion Research

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  • political science (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bolthole ( 122186 ) on Friday April 27, 2012 @01:42PM (#39823523) Journal
    Yay election year motivated spending.... lets see them get anything the following year :p
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 27, 2012 @01:49PM (#39823639)

      The disheartening thing about our budget is that we were unable to find a reasonable solution to contain health care costs in our country. We have plenty of examples of country who are able to offer good health care for a fraction of the cost and yet we have chosen to kick the can and not solve this problem. Anything else in the budget (other than defence) is peanuts compared to health care. Yet, we have no solution in sight. Harder than facing the problem, we chose to digress the discussion and talk about 'death panels' and other nonsensical distractions. .... sigh....

      • by sycodon ( 149926 )

        Every attempt at reform to date has sought merely to spread the cost, not reduce the cost.

        What we need is an anal exam of all the players in the system. Full top to bottom audit, no information hidden. No relying on anecdotal stories or other gut feel explanations. That way, policy makers will KNOW what's driving the costs and design appropriate remedies.

        Until that happens, any attempt to solve this will fail.

        • When the "death panels" meme spread like wildfire, I realized then that there was no chance of substantially reducing healthcare costs, because the public will to make healthcare decisions rationally, in an evidence-based manner on cost and benefit, does not exist. Without that, we are mainly limited to redistribution.
          • by sycodon ( 149926 )

            You are doing the same as has been done before...ignoring the fact that there undoubtedly things that can be done to reduce the structural costs.

            Costs are not skyrocketing not ONLY because people insist on MRIs for the running nose. They are going up because MRIs cost a lot of money to do. Why? who knows? You can guess...large capital costs, specialized training, special housing, etc. But still, it is a piece of equipment governed by the laws of GAAP and FDA regulation. Each of these regulatory systems can

            • by ppanon ( 16583 )

              Well in the case of MRIs, since you're talking about very large superconducting coils, I expect they're also expensive to run because a) very strong B fields require lots of power to generate, b) superconducting magnets need to be cooled with liquid helium (which itself tends to be kept in an intermediary LN insulating "blanket").

              The LHe and LN also require power to condense/cool and when dealing with stuff kept that cold, there almost certainly is more maintenance complexity (and hence costs) than with th

            • by dbIII ( 701233 )

              ignoring the fact that there undoubtedly things that can be done to reduce the structural costs.

              That is an opinion and not a fact. While things perhaps "could" be done there were unfortunately leeches that fed off those structural costs and they needed to fight change to keep their money supply. Unfortunately due to the vast amount of waste feeding those leeches and a system where influence can be legally bought they had the ability to fight very effectively.

              You have an insurance system that pretends to

              • There is also the massive problem of malpractice insurance. The doctor who delivered my children had to go out of business because, even though he was a good doctor, the malpractice insurance was too expensive to afford. All because people read the papers about there being a risk of death, or blindness, or whatever, and think the risk won't hit them, then when it does, they sue the doctor for it happening. If we could reduce lawsuit payouts, the healthcare system would become much cheaper to run.

      • Healthcare is a for-profit industry in the US. Hospitals these days are run by beancounters who consider them 'profit centers' rather than 'centers for health'. If the US wants to fix an unfixable system, they need to talk to the Brits, the Swedes, the Finns, and so forth. Doubt it'll happen here in the Land of the Fee.

        but this is supposed to be about fusion. The funding is there for now, because it's trendy. And it's at the expense of other projects. And fusion will still be 20 years away. Expect t
    • I'd think in the current political climate, not spending would be election year behavior.
  • That's new! ROFL. Lets see, which member's districts will this money go to...

    • by sycodon ( 149926 )

      Probably the distinct that hosts the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

      Odds that it is a Republican district are something south of zero.

  • by crazyjj ( 2598719 ) * on Friday April 27, 2012 @01:53PM (#39823707)

    That means in 10 years, it will be just forty years away, right?

    • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Friday April 27, 2012 @02:01PM (#39823817)

      Maybe the fact that it always seems 50 years away has something to do with this []?

      They said in 1978 that then current funding levels would never produce a viable power platform. To get one going by today would have required on average $2.5 billion per year by the fusion researchers' own estimates. Actual funding since 1978? $500 million per year. Quite blaming the science for the politicians shortsightedness.

      • Good news for us in Europe then. We take the problem seriously, and are devoting significant resources to it.

        It's not like the old days either, where the British did all the innovating, and then the US made all the money. Technological leadership is heading away from the US, and shifting back towards Europe and the rising powers.

        It is an easy trend to spot. Neoliberals know the cost of everything, but the value of nothing.

      • Fusion has historically been underfunded. The only way to get any real funding for fusion research is from the DoD, once you convince them that a fusion-powered missile submarine is a Good Thing in that all they have to do is push a hose into the water to refuel. No, it won't work that way, but those armchair admirals are easily snowed.
        • No, it won't work that way, but those armchair admirals are easily snowed.

          Why not?

          If this hypothetical fusion power plant runs on D-D or D-T or even the more esoteric p-B there's no real reason that fuel could be extracted from seawater. That of course assumes that you could fit a distillery into the boat. If not, then it's no big deal when you realise just how minuscule the amount of fuel such a craft would need.

          Still I think you're dead-on when it comes to approaching the DoD; those people have pockets as deep as the oceans they patrol.

          • by rts008 ( 812749 )

            That of course assumes that you could fit a distillery into the boat.

            Most of the US Navy ships and subs that are nuclear powered dump excess distilled water overboard.

            I think they could easily come up with a smaller, simpler distillery than a nuclear reactor to address that part of your comment. :-)

            Besides, knowing sailors, I imagine there have been occasional 'field-improvised' distilleries on ships for many decades/centuries. ;-)

            • I'm sorry, I should have been more specific*. By "distillery" I meant something used to extract heavy or deuterated water from the sea, which could yield deuterium fuel for a fusion reactor.

              *Or more general, depending on how you look at it.

      • Maybe the fact that it always seems 50 years away has something to do with this?

        I saw that graph for the first time in the MIT fusion research Q&A. Man was it depressing seeing the "actual funding" line drooping way below the "fusion never" line. :(

    • Man. my flying car has to be just around the corner...
    • No it's a different type of math actually. Just like lightspeed minus another speed remains lightspeed, 50 years minus 10 years remains 50 years. It takes a bit of getting used to but after a while you start to see that it makes perfect sense. You just have to get used to the different math.

    • The same idiots who deny cannabis's medicinal benefits agree it should be grouped along with crack and ecstasy.

  • by Petron ( 1771156 ) on Friday April 27, 2012 @01:55PM (#39823751)
    A day without fusion is like a day without sunshine!

    I gatta get me this shirt (on thinkgeek)...
  • LFTR, LFTR, LFTR. Seriously. We need a Manhattan Project-style sprint to commercialize Thorium-based energy. That'll give us 1000+, carbon-neutral years to figure out the whole Fusion thing. And hoverboards.

    • I agree. While I do think that fusion power is worth researching, it should be a long term research project. LFTR is a "right now" project that will yield immediate results. Oak Ridge National Laboratories had a working LFTR reactor back in the 60s. We could have LFTR up and running on a global scale in 10 years if we could get just a little funding for it, say 1 billion dollars, which is a fraction of what has been spent so far on Fusion so far with no practical application yet.

      Here's the primer on LFT

  • So the House really does do the exact oppposite of whatever Obama proposes. They can actually be tricked into doing something worthwhile. The more you know.....
  • by Anonymous Coward

    We already have a technology that would give us energy independence for the 40 + years it will take to get the fusion reactors working!

    10,800 LFTR would produce enough energy at 100 MW's each to fill all the US needs utilizing existing store of Uranium to start the fission process. They produce only 1% of waste and its only radioactive for 300 years apposed to the 10,000 years for Uranium. Alternatively they could build 1080 1000MW reactors to do the same job at a small fraction of the cost of conventional

  • Glad to know Congress is good for something!

  • The fusion research give back was a sop to Sen. Brown of MA. Overall, this bill is a step back... did @zrbyte read the article?

    I'm fine with funding fusion, but the fact is that we haven't been and aren't anywhere near payoff on fusion research. While this Administration has tried to focus resources on technologies with near-term benefits towards supplementing and eventually substituting our energy supplies with cleaner sources, this Congress is sticking with their usual pork buddies: oil, coal, and uranium. That they threw a bone to Scott Brown was an afterthought, the cost of doing business for when they get to their real priorities: cutting social insurance and 1%er taxes.

    The overall DOE budget is cut $365 million below the 2012 budget, $1.76 billion below the Administration request.
    To pay for this:
    - Fusion Energy Sciences program: +$72.6 million
    - Various domestic fusion research programs: +$48.3 million ... mostly to keep Alcator C-Mod open.
    - ITER contribution: +$73 million ... a drop in the bucket for the billions ITER will require from the US over 10 years.

    They're cutting from this:
    - DOE's Basic Energy Sciences: -$36.9 million, $142.5 million below Administration request, mostly by canceling or delaying construction projects.
    - Biological and Environmental Research: -$69.8 million, $83.4 million below request.
    - Advanced Research Projects Agency: -$75 million, $75 million below request.

    Other winners:
    - Fossil energy research: +$207 million
    - Fission energy research: +$765 million

    • Compare those numbers to the amount spent during the Republican primaries recently to show how much contempt they have for these programs.
    • by jez9999 ( 618189 )

      Fission energy research: +$765 million

      If we can get Integral Fast Reactors being built, then at least fission is a very good way of generating power resulting in very little (short-lived) nuclear waste.

  • That's the ticket, matey.

    "Please! This is supposed to be a happy occasion. Let's not bicker and argue over who killed who."
    • by Livius ( 318358 )

      The double lithium atom is actually carbon-14, but it sells for more with the cool name.

  • FTA:

    The U.S. contribution to ITER would also grow by $73 million, to $178 million. That amount is $28 million higher than the request.


    To help pay for the fusion increases, the committee made major cuts to DOE's Basic Energy Sciences account, which funds studies in an array of fields, including chemistry, geosciences, and biology. That account would get $1.7 billion, $36.9 million below this year's level and $142.5 million below the Administration's request. The bulk of the savings would come from cance

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I've been kinda enamoured with Thorium salt fast breeder reactors lately, seems to me it's a much more attainable goal. Fusion would be cool and all, but isn't TSFR technology, like, already within our grasp?

      • by dkf ( 304284 )

        I've been kinda enamoured with Thorium salt fast breeder reactors lately, seems to me it's a much more attainable goal. Fusion would be cool and all, but isn't TSFR technology, like, already within our grasp?

        You would only spend money on researching one technology at a time? Most of what is being researched in something like ITER falls into two categories: plasma physics (which couldn't be found out before; plasmas aren't scale-invariant and the mathematics of them is furiously difficult) and advanced materials (how to cope with the neutron flux and efficiently convey the heat away without everything being super-brittle). The latter will also benefit fission reactors (including those Thorium salt fast breeders

  • Obama wanted to cut the funding because he knew the republicans in the house would do the exact opposite.

  • if O attacked fusion to get it this much funding? Seriously. Anything that O pushes for, the neo-cons fight. At this time, it is stupid to have neo-cons in CONgress with O in the WH.
  • Forget politics. With the extra funding, I predict fusion will be a reality in about 40 years.

  • Money doesn't buy intelligence. It just buys more ways to be dumb.

"I will make no bargains with terrorist hardware." -- Peter da Silva