Friday, 31 August 1990 Washington, DC
1. FRED BERNTHAL BECOMES ACTING DIRECTOR OF NSF.
Erich Bloch spent his last day as Director of NSF on Wednesday.
Bernthal, who was named Deputy Director in January, will replace
him until a new Director can be confirmed. Even if a permanent
Director is nominated today, as rumored
(WN 17 Aug 90), it could
be weeks before the confirmation process is completed. Congress
will have its hands full when it comes back, dealing with the
Mid-East crisis and trying to decide what ruse it will use to
duck Gramm-Rudman. If Congress fails to duck by 1 Oct, Bernthal
may be taking an unplanned furlough in FY 91, along with other
government employees. Bernthal is a physical chemist with a PhD
from Berkeley, who taught chemistry and physics at Michigan State
before coming to Washington in 1975 as a Congressional Fellow for
the American Physical Society. He rose to chief legislative aide
to Sen. Howard Baker (R-TN). In 1983 President Reagan named him
to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and to Assistant Secretary
of State for Environmental and Scientific Affairs in 1988.
2. BETWEEN OIL GLUTS WE START THINKING ABOUT FUSION AGAIN.
Fusion Policy Advisory Committee, headed by the Nation's all-
purpose advisory committee chairman, Guy Stever, met this week to
put together a plan for fusion research. If Secretary of Energy
Watkins was hoping the panel would choose between approaches, he
will be disappointed--they call for everything. The report will
recommend a stronger US effort in both magnetic and inertial
confinement, with increased international collaboration. In
magnetic fusion, that means both the International Experimental
Thermonuclear Reactor (ITER) and the Compact Ignition Tokamak
(CIT). The goal is a commercial fusion power plant by 2040.
3. IS MAGNETIC FUSION ON THE THRESHOLD OF BREAK-EVEN?
Street Journal, which seems to have trouble with fusion, hot or
cold, says "break even" may be announced before the international
fusion conference in Washington in late October. In fact, TFTR
(the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor at Princeton) is approaching
"equivalent" break even, which means reaching conditions in a
deuterium plasma that would be expected to give break-even in a
deuterium-tritium mixture--if their extrapolation is correct. The
energy difference is about 300, which is a lot of extrapolation.
The recently-passed Senate Energy Appropriations Bill ordered the
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory to conduct the D-T experiment
at once, but the lab says they won't be ready before July 1993.
Besides, once they do it, TFTR is finished. In any case, break-
even is a long way from ignition; for that they need the CIT.
4. MEANWHILE A NEW NRC REPORT CALLS FOR CUTS IN MAGNETIC FUSION!
Confused? So too is the National Research Council, which only a
year ago was calling for a whopping increase in magnetic fusion
research. But the title of this study is "Confronting Climate
Change" and, as always, the money has to come from somewhere.