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Government Power The Almighty Buck Politics

MIT Used Lobbying, Influence To Restore Nuclear Fusion Dream 135

Posted by samzenpus
from the you-forgot-to-bury-the-head dept.
An anonymous reader writes in with the story of how MIT's fusion energy experiment is alive and well even though its federal funding was axed. "'In the end, it is about picking a winner and a parochial effort to direct money to MIT,' said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington-based watchdog group. 'It's certainly a case of lawmakers bucking the president and putting their thumb on the scale for a particular project.' MIT enlisted the support of a wealthy Democratic donor from Concord and the help of an influential Washington think-tank co-founded by John Kerry. These efforts were backed by lobbyists, including a former congressman from Massachusetts, with connections to the right lawmakers on the right committees. The cast also included an alliance of universities, industry and national labs, all invested in the fusion dream. 'It's ground-breaking research that could lead an energy revolution,' [Senator Elizabeth] Warren said. 'This was not about politics. This was about good science.' The revival of MIT's project, whatever its merits, clearly demonstrated what the combination of old-fashioned Washington horse-trading and new-fangled power — both nuclear and political — can do."
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MIT Used Lobbying, Influence To Restore Nuclear Fusion Dream

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  • by phantomfive (622387) on Monday June 09, 2014 @02:36AM (#47193359) Journal
    The article doesn't go into details about the quality of the program. The Obama administration removed funding, and Obama certainly isn't opposed to alternative energy. According to the article:

    the Obama administration, while sharing the hope that nuclear fusion will one day be harnessed as a power source, concluded that the MIT experiment was a waste of taxpayer money. It deemed MIT’s facility outdated and small, the least scientifically useful of three domestic fusion reactors. Indeed, critics of the experiment said it amounts to a $1.5 million-per-student training program that MIT wants to keep going to protect its turf and prestige.

    It would be interesting to see an analysis of what the program is actually accomplishing. It's not clear, and I don't have the expertise to determine whether the program is doing anything useful.

  • by amaurea (2900163) on Monday June 09, 2014 @05:35AM (#47193661) Homepage

    It's common to hear someone say that "fusion power was 30 years away in the seventies, it's 30 years away now, and it will stay 30 years away"" or similar, and sadly, there is some truth to that (though perhaps it's 30 years now (estimated time for the DEMO full power-plant is 2033)). I think one of the reasons is that funding keeps decreasing, far below the optimistic projections of the 70s. The MIT fusion project made this graph to illustrate: https://i.imgur.com/sjH5r.jpg [imgur.com]

    It's a bit like when you're downloading a file, and while the download keeps making progress, the estimated time left stays put because the download speed keeps going down. I've had that happen a few times, and it requires an exponentially falling download speed. With fusion, the situation isn't quite that bad, but when you consider the sort of funding levels people were imagining before, it isn't surprising that they thought we would have fusion power by the year 2000.

    One interesting way of putting this is to say that fusion power isn't a constant amount of time away, but about 50 billion dollars of funding away. To put those 50 billion dollars in context, fossil fules have received 594 billion dollars in subsidies in the USA since 1950. So partially fusion is difficult, and partially we're not trying very hard.

  • by Karmashock (2415832) on Monday June 09, 2014 @06:49AM (#47193791)

    as to the different groups of environmentalists... I know... every group has that problem.

    But the issue is that to some extent we're all environmentalists. We all live in this environment and we all generally want our planet to be healthy etc.

    So as a political cause or faction, its hard to claim ownership of it unless you're in the extreme radical fringe. Because pretty much everyone agrees with everything BUT that fringe. And its the fringe that causes all the controversy.

    Cut them out and you get no disagreement.

    The environmental movement that you and I believe in already won. It got everything it was trying to get.

    But like all the lobbying and advocacy groups when they get what they want they just ask for more and more and more until people say no... and then they paint whomever is denying them anything as an enemy of EVERYTHING they've ever done.

    For example, if people that have come out against reparations for American blacks are frequently labeled racists, advocates of slavery, or other things. Never mind that they were against all those things they just don't believe in reparations for some reason.

    Likewise you get the same thing in the environmental movement.

    You come out against anything they want and they say you want to kill the world with toxic smog and heavy metal contamination.

    You come out against putting in gender quotas for female hiring and the feminists will say you want to end women's suffrage, you're a misogynist, etc.

    Every group is doing this... you see it amongst the bible thumpers as well... you don't like mandated religious education in public schools? Oh suddenly we all hate Christians and want to take away people's right to freedom of religion.

    Every group is doing this... And I really don't understand why anyone lets them get away with it. Its obviously completely stupid. But every day... the same shit.

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