Science in Mind

Senators oppose pending shutdown of MIT fusion experiment

The MIT Alcator C-Mod tokamak will shut down within a year, unless Congress acts to restore funding to the nuclear fusion project.
The MIT Alcator C-Mod tokamak will shut down within a year, unless Congress acts to restore funding to the nuclear fusion project. Credit: Globe file photo/2005

The plan to shut down a nuclear fusion experiment at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in a year and news that half the project’s employees have received layoff notices has prompted objections from the state’s two senators.

On Monday, U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and William M. Cowan wrote a letter to Ernest Moniz, the MIT physicist who has just been confirmed as the secretary of the Department of Energy, urging him to restore funding to the experiment.

“We were troubled to learn that last week, as a result of budget uncertainty, MIT issued Reduction in Force notices to 35 scientists, engineers and technicians at the Alcator C-Mod facility,” the senators wrote. “We are concerned that failing to provide funding for the facility will threaten American leadership in fusion energy research, harm the American economy in the long term, and hinder innovative efforts to develop clean, safe energy production through fusion.”

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The letter follows a similar letter sent in April, signed by members of the the Massachusetts Congressional delegation.

In an interview last week, MIT vice president for research Maria Zuber said that if Moniz were confirmed as Energy Secretary, the longtime MIT professor would recuse himself from any decision on the fusion experiment.

Fusion generates energy as atoms combine. Unlike nuclear fission that occurs in power plants, the process has the potential of creating energy without hazardous byproducts.

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