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Fusion results will not affect MIT research

By Reuven M. Lerner

Monday's successful controlled fusion reaction at the Joint European Taurus facility in Culham, England, will not have an effect "one way or the other" on fusion research at MIT, according to Professor Ronald R. Parker PhD '63, director of the Plasma Fusion Center.

The experiment, which produced nearly two megawatts of power over a period of two seconds, was the first controlled fusion reaction to produce that much electricity. It was "certainly a record for making fusion on earth, at least in a semi-controlled way," he said.

Parker felt the experiment would have very little influence on the amount of money the PFC receives from the government. "It can't hurt," he said, adding that he was glad to see scientists "actually beginning to produce measurable power. On the other hand, it's not like all of a sudden Congress is going to whip out its checkbook and say, `how much do you want?' "

He said that while Monday's experiment would probably not increase the amount of money Congress allocates for research, it "might help the situation from deteriorating any faster."

Research at MIT will continue along its normal course, Parker said, which includes installing a small-scale version of the European reactor that "should be comparable to the performance of the experiment in England."

Associate Provost and Vice President for Research J. David Litster PhD '65 was also confident that MIT's position in fusion research was unlikely to change. "MIT is actually in a relatively strong position in the whole area of plasma fusion right now," he said.

Parker said the experiment's results were significant, but stressed that this "doesn't mean that energy too cheap to meter is just around the corner. It means we've made a certain amount of progress in fusion, we've learned to produce megawatts of power, we're ready to take another step."

The experiment was more of a breakthrough than a milestone, Parker said. It was "a goal you have to get to, a gate you have to get through -- I wouldn't call it a breakthrough, in the sense that it was unexpected or surprising in any way," he said.