The giant laser at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. National Ignition Facility

So Far Unfruitful, Fusion Project Faces a Frugal Congress

By William J. Broad
Published: September 29, 2012

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.

To do so, American scientists have built a giant laser, now the size of a football stadium, that takes target practice on specks of fuel smaller than peppercorns. The device, operating since 1993, has so far cost taxpayers more than $5 billion, making it one of the most expensive federally financed science projects ever. But so far, it has not worked.

Unfortunately, the due date is Sunday, the last day of the fiscal year. And Congress, which would need to allocate more money to keep the project alive, is going to want some explanations.

“We didn’t achieve the goal,” said Donald L. Cook, an official at the National Nuclear Security Administration who oversees the laser project. 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.

The failure could have broad repercussions not only for the big laser, which is based at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, but also for federally financed science projects in general.

Read more: Fusion Project Faces a Frugal Congress –

Home           Top of page