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Andrew Revkin on the Fusion Budget

Andrew Revkin on the Fusion Budget

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Over at The New York Times, Andrew Revkin discusses fusion energy on his Dot Earth blog. With the National Ignition Facility missing its target of achieving “ignition” by the end of the fiscal year, some critics are calling for the fusion budget to be cut. Revkin takes a look at fusion in terms of our need to invest in long-term R&D, and he suggests that the U.S. needs to invest more in all sorts of R&D, including fusion energy. He also offers insights from Burton Richter, a physics professor at Stanford, and he provides some good background on fusion. Here’s Revkin:

Setting aside specific issues related to the laser ignition facility, I have a different view. Human nature and the political systems that are shaped by it both create a bias toward the near and now. I’d like to think that we might be able to factor in our predispositions and bias when society chooses how to apportion scarce research dollars. It’s been clear to me for many years that the proportion of total federal research spending devoted to energy, which has been a dribble for decades under both political parties, is too low.

And here is an excerpt from Burton Richter:

There are two approaches to fusion energy, inertial confinement (the National Ignition Facility or NIF at Lawrence Livermore National Lab, for example) and magnetic confinement (the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor or ITER, for example). Both approaches have gone from failure to ever larger failure, but each time a great deal has been learned and enough people have been convinced that we now know how to do it so that the next step has been funded. Some call this a triumph of hope over experience. The hope is for a cost-effective, emissions-free, large-scale source of electricity. The world needs an affordable one and those who argue for fusion believe that it can deliver. The hoped-for schedule is for a power plant by 2050. Cynics say that practical fusion energy is 50 years in the future and will always be so. I have been involved with major reviews of both approaches and will give my take on both.

To read the full article, click here.