With the recent talk about nuclear power as “green energy”–despite its well-documented risks–it’s no surprise that the announcement a new nuclear physics lab at Michigan State University (MSU) was met with laudatory coverage by the corporate press.
The media highlighted the fact that the construction of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) will bring $550 million in federal constructions. They reported that it will boost the economy by creating $1 billion in spending in Michigan, creating 400 new jobs over a decade, and generating $187 million in tax revenue.
Of course, there was little discussion of what would actually be done at the lab. Similarly, there was no real discussion of the history of nuclear research in the United States, which has often been closely aligned with the development of nuclear weapons. Indeed, nuclear research receives substantial government funding and research often has both civilian and military applications, as is the case with the FRIB facility:
“…a U.S.-based FRIB facility, capable of producing high-specific-activity samples of exotic isotopes, could contribute to research in the national interest. The applications of rare-isotope technology could influence many areas, including medical research, national security, energy production, materials science, and industrial processes. It would provide an important contribution to the education and training of future U.S. scientists in the physics of nuclei. The aspects of nuclear physics addressed by the FRIB community directly impact the basic-science knowledge base relevant for nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons.”
The government described the main goals of the facility:
“The main focus of FRIB is to produce such rare isotopes, study their properties, and use them in applications to address national needs.
FRIB will provide researchers with the technical capabilities to study the properties of rare isotopes, and to put this knowledge to use in various applications, including in materials science, nuclear medicine, and the fundamental understanding of nuclear material important to nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship.”
Articles on the MSU facility talked briefly about medical applications as well as the development of mechanisms to test nuclear weapons without detonation. Such tests may be important as Obama mulls the possibility of developing a new generation of nuclear weapons.