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FRIB funding controversial among legislators

February 27, 2012

Since the federal proposal to cut funding to $22 million from the original $55 million in committed funding for the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, or FRIB, earlier this month, several legislative voices are crying out to show continued support for the project.

Last week, state Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, introduced a resolution requesting Congress to fully fund the project as it would bring thousands of jobs, advance science and economically benefit the region, he said.

“MSU is a wonderful university, and we won, and we beat out the whole country (for this project),” Jones said. “And now all of a sudden, the federal government under the Obama administration is cutting it drastically.”

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., at a budget testimony for Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu in mid-February, also said FRIB is at a critical point in its development, and a lack of funding would call into question the competitiveness of the U.S.

“We have to move forward,” Stabenow said during the testimony. “If we don’t, other nations will, and they will be the ones attracting the best and brightest researchers, not the United States.”

Chu responded to Stabenow and said it is a worthy scientific project — a total cost of $600 million — and has the backing of the department, but Jones questioned the federal government’s commitment.

According to the department’s proposed budget, U.S. contributions for the ITER nuclear fusion research project, located in France, have been requested to increase to $150 million during fiscal year 2013 from $105 million, which Jones said is an outrageous proposal.

“I feel very positive that if we work together in a bipartisan fashion, we can bring the money back to our country and not (have it) spent elsewhere,” Jones said.

“Once people learn of what’s going on, they’ll be very upset and put more pressure (on the government).”

Such signs of support from Michigan’s congressional delegation and the university leave officials hopeful this piece of FRIB funding will be restored.

“We are grateful for all the support from both the state and federal level,” said Mark Burnham, MSU vice president for governmental affairs, adding his office has been in touch with legislative leaders.

He said action in Washington, D.C., moves slowly and the fate of funding might not be determined until the fall. The budget must be approved by Congress to be enacted.

FRIB project manager Thomas Glasmacher said he appreciates the support the project has received.
In the meantime, he is working toward the possible approval of critical decision 2 in mid-March, the next step to push the project further toward early completion by 2018.

But because of possible funding delays, FRIB could slip past its scheduled benchmarks for completion, said Konrad Gelbke, director of MSU’s National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory and FRIB in a previous interview.

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