ASP Senior Fellow Andrew Holland: Why the New York Times is Wrong on the National Ignition Facility

posted on October 17, 2012 at 2:53 pm

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In a new Op-ed in AOL Energy, ASP Senior Fellow Andrew Holland responded to an October 6th, New York Times editorial criticizing the National Ignition Facility (NIF). The NIF is an experimental laser facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in Livermore, California. The NIF and LLNL are both federally funded, and the NIF recently missed a congressionally assigned deadline to achieve ignition by September 30th, 2012. In his defense of the NIF, Holland examined the editorial’s three main arguments and disputed them one by one.

First, the Times indicated that the NIF faced “technical challenges too great to be mastered on a tight time schedule.” We must be very careful about trying to fit important scientific breakthroughs on a politically-determined schedule. In the Times’ article, the Director of Livermore Laboratory, Penrose Albright, noted that the deadline was arbitrary; the goal coincided with the end of the fiscal year for budgetary reasons, not based on scientific parameters.

The Times’ next major argument is that technical reviews this year have concluded that “the scientists in charge do not fully understand how the process is working.” Left unsaid by the Times is that the National Academy’s report on inertial fusion energy applauded the progress of science at the NIF and recommended the facility as a continued venue for future experiments.

Finally, the Times made a budgetary argument, saying that “we suspect the money would be better spent on renewable sources of energy” and that, even if experiments are successful, a demonstration plant “will cost billions and may ultimately show that fusion is not a practical source of power.” Each of these arguments is a mere assertion, unsupported by facts. I am not going to argue against funding for basic research into renewable sources of energy, but I would argue that the government’s role in basic research and development, like the NIF, is much clearer and more cost effective than support to commercialize a technology.

 

To read the full article click here.

For more information on fusion, visit ASP’s Fusion 2020 page here.

For more of Andrew Holland’s work, visit his page at ASP or his column on the Consumer Energy Report.

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