The New York Times recently published an article titled So Far Unfruitful, Fusion Project Faces a Frugal Congress that made me feel just a little prescient. It is no surprise to me to read that the $5 billion dollar facility is no closer to producing useful nuclear fusion today than it was when it was commissioned in 2009.
Here is a quote from the article I wrote on that occasion, titled More Fusion Hype – The National Ignition Facility – a Gold-Plated, Expansive Playing Field Producing NO Useful Power, dated March 26, 2009.
What in the world gives fusion scientists the right to associate their thirst for science knowledge with the world’s need for clean energy? They are offering NOTHING that offers any hope of even a bit of useful power within the next several decades, yet they want BILLIONS in research funds and want to tie up some of the brightest young minds on the planet for years worth of fruitless effort that does not provide safety, comfort or motive power for anyone.
Here is a quote from the New York Times article from September 29, 2012.
The result, scientists hope, would include not just new science but radically new kinds of reactors to generate electric power at low cost. Hydrogen, they note, is the most abundant element in the universe.
“Bringing Star Power to Earth,” read a giant banner that workers in 2009 unfurled on the newly inaugurated National Ignition Facility. Over budget and behind schedule, the construction had taken a decade.
Dr. Albright, the laboratory’s director, insisted that the big laser would still end up being the first on the planet to make a tiny star. The question is when.
“Everybody believes we can get there,” he said. “But we’re exploring parts of physical space that no one has ever done before, and that’s a hard problem.”
Based on its distant promise of being able to approach a solution to a “hard problem” – someday – the National Ignition Facility was able to capture $5 billion in DOE funding to build the facility. It costs nearly $300 million per year to operate the machine. Comparing those figures to the well-promoted DOE (undelivered) promise to request $452 million over a five year period to support small modular reactor research makes me realize – once again – just how skewed the United States’s energy-related budget decisions have been over the years. This is not a partisan statement; the facility was built between 2000-2009 and has continued to receive its operating budget request ever since.