Fusion Wins Big in House Spending Bill

Fusion research would get a major boost in a Department of Energy (DOE) spending bill approved today by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations. The panel rejected an Obama Administration proposal to cut funding for domestic fusion research in the 2013 fiscal year, which begins 1 October. It would also give more money than requested to an international collaboration building the ITER fusion reactor in France.

Fusion's gains, however, mean losses for DOE's environmental and basic energy research programs.

Overall, the panel would provide DOE with $26.3 billion, about $365 million below its 2012 budget, and $1.76 billion below the Administration's request. DOE's Office of Science would get $4.824 billion, about $72.2 million less than its 2012 level and $190.6 million below the request.

Despite those cuts, the Fusion Energy Sciences program would get an increase of $72.6 million over its current budget, to $474.6 million. That figure is also $76.3 million above the request. Nearly $297 million would go to domestic fusion programs, or $48.3 million more than requested. The bill instructs DOE to use the extra funds to keep open the Alcator C-Mod fusion facility at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, which the Administration had proposed closing. It also wants DOE to "fund continued research, operations and upgrades across the Office of Science's domestic fusion enterprise."

The U.S. contribution to ITER would also grow by $73 million, to $178 million. That amount is $28 million higher than the request. But the panel warned that fully funding ITER poses "substantial budgetary challenges," and reminded DOE that it has asked for a 10-year plan that spells out how the agency will pay for the U.S. share of the $19 billion project.

To help pay for the fusion increases, the committee made major cuts to DOE's Basic Energy Sciences account, which funds studies in an array of fields, including chemistry, geosciences, and biology. That account would get $1.7 billion, $36.9 million below this year's level and $142.5 million below the Administration's request. The bulk of the savings would come from canceling or delaying construction projects.

The bill also takes a bite out of Biological and Environmental Research programs. The panel approved $542 million, which is $69.8 million below current levels and $83.4 million below the request.

DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy also fares poorly. Spending would drop from the current $275 million to $200 million; the Administration had requested $350 million.

Research into fossil and nuclear energy, meanwhile, would grow. The bill includes $554 million—$207 million above last year's level—for development of coal, natural gas, oil, and other fossil energy technologies. It also includes $765 million for nuclear energy research.

Earlier this week, a Senate spending panel approved its version of a DOE spending bill. Although full details have not been released, it appears to contain numerous differences from the House bill.