Hugh Pickens writes "For more than 50 years, physicists have been eager to achieve controlled fusion, an elusive goal that could potentially offer a boundless and inexpensive source of energy. Now Bill Sweet writes in IEEE Spectrum that the National Ignition Facility (NIF), now five billion dollars over its original budget and years behind schedule, deserves to be recognized as perhaps the biggest and fattest white elephant of all time. With the total tab for NIF now running to an estimated $7 billion, the laboratory has been pulling out all the stops to claim success is just around the corner. 'We didn't achieve the goal,' said Donald L. Cook, an official at the National Nuclear Security Administration who oversees the laser project but rather than predicting when it might succeed, he added in an interview, 'we're going to settle into a serious investigation' of what caused the unforeseen snags. On one hand, the laser's defenders point out, hard science is by definition risky, and no serious progress is possible without occasional failures. On the other, federal science initiatives seldom disappoint on such a gargantuan scale, and the setback comes in an era of tough fiscal choices and skepticism about science among some lawmakers. 'If the main goal is to achieve a power source that could replace fossil fuels, we suspect the money would be better spent on renewable sources of energy that are likely to be cheaper and quicker to put into wide use,' editorializes the NY Times. 'Congress will need to look hard at whether these "stockpile stewardship" and long-term energy goals can be pursued on a smaller budget.'"
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