Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) visited MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC) yesterday for the official restart of the Alcator C-Mod tokamak. The resumption of work by nearly 100 staff, faculty, and graduate students on the project follows recent congressional budget action, which reversed an earlier proposal by the Department of Energy (DOE) to shut down the C-Mod program.
The politicians were welcomed to the PSFC by its director, Miklos Porkolab, a professor of physics; Alcator project head Earl Marmar; Maria Zuber, MIT’s vice president for research; Martin Greenwald, PSFC associate director; Anne White, the Norman C. Rasmussen Assistant Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering; and Amanda Hubbard, a principal research scientist. Together, the scientists and lawmakers pressed a button, activating a countdown to the creation of a high-temperature, fusion-producing plasma — and re-launching C-Mod research at MIT.
Due to funding cuts, C-Mod, a DOE National Fusion Facility, has not been able to run its experiments or collect new data since October 2012, when the project was designated for closeout in the Obama administration’s fiscal 2013 budget proposal. Warren, Clark, Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), and the rest of Massachusetts’ House delegation have been strong voices in Washington for restoring funding to MIT’s fusion project.
Clark visited the PSFC last year as a state senator; yesterday’s visit was a first trip for Warren. After a tour of the tokamak, Warren expressed enthusiasm for fusion’s promise of clean, abundant energy, as well as her concern about the uncertainty of long-term funding of this project. She expressed her strong belief that this project should receive the kind of long-term funding that allows MIT graduate students time to complete their research.
“It’s not enough to fight [for funding] year to year,” Warren said. “Graduate students need to be able to come here and work, and know that they can start projects, and that the lab will still be open a year from now, three years from now, five years from now, as their work continues.”
Clark noted that she is impressed with the promise and safety of fusion energy, and pointed out that the innovations and businesses that would come out of the scientific talent present in the C-Mod control room would undoubtedly reach beyond fusion.
MIT President L. Rafael Reif also attended the celebration, and praised Warren and Clark for their support.
“It is great to be represented in Congress by people who understand the importance of basic science, the connection between basic science and innovation, and the importance of federal funding for basic science,” said Reif, who also singled out Zuber as an “unsung hero of this contingent,” commending her tireless efforts on behalf of the PSFC and MIT.
Zuber described the research underway at PSFC as “at the top of its game, world-class and highly cited,” noting a team from the Alcator group wrote the top article in fusion research last year.
The Alcator C-Mod project is currently funded through September, with the hope of receiving a commitment from the DOE and Congress for an additional three to five years of operation.