Statement on NSAC Report on Nuclear Physics Funding

The following statement is from Interim Laboratory Director Doon Gibbs.

On January 28, a subpanel of the Department of Energy (DOE) and National Science Foundation (NSF) Nuclear Science Advisory committee (NSAC) presented its recommendations for the future of U.S. nuclear physics research in a constrained budget environment. The report was written in response to a specific charge from DOE/NSF and is designed to inform tough decisions that those agencies may need to make over the next several years, depending on Congressional budgets. DOE/NSF requested the report since it is not clear that all three of the large nuclear science facilities either operating (the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, RHIC, at Brookhaven National Laboratory), undergoing an upgrade (the Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility, CEBAF 12 GeV, at Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility at Jefferson Lab), or planned (the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, FRIB, at Michigan State University) can continue under two scenarios, the first involving flat-flat budgets for the next five years and the second involving increases for inflation over the same timeframe. 

The report finds that neither budget scenario is sufficient to permit all three facilities to continue, and describes the devastating impacts to science and the resulting loss of U.S. leadership in nuclear science if any of the projects is stopped. Assuming that no other alternatives are possible, the report then identifies early termination of RHIC operations as its recommendation.

Considering the devastating impact on science of the loss of one of these world leading facilities would cause, the subpanel also discussed a third scenario, involving “modest budget increases.” Under this scenario, work at all three facilities continues, although with reduced running at RHIC and CEBAF. The panel unanimously agreed this is the preferable scenario for U.S. nuclear science, as it would allow the nation to maintain its world leadership in the three largest subfields of nuclear physics.

It is important to note that the recommendations of the subpanel, even when adopted by NSAC, are strictly advisory and do not compel DOE/NSF to follow a specific course of action. Neither the FY13 nor the FY14 budgets has yet been approved, nor has the DOE made its final decisions concerning its long-term priorities in nuclear science. RHIC's long-term prospects will most likely be decided in a process that will play out over the next several budget cycles (one to two years).

I have been in touch with the leadership of each of the other two affected facilities, and we have agreed to work together to realize the modest growth path.

We also expect the strong support of the NY State Congressional delegation.

I thank NSAC subpanel chair Bob Tribble and the other members of the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee subpanel for all their work to understand this complicated issue and come up with a set of recommendations for a path forward.

The final outcome is not yet clear; DOE and NSF must still decide how to respond to the NSAC recommendations. We believe that RHIC science, past and future, is compelling and essential both for the DOE mission as well as for U.S. leadership in nuclear physics — and the Tribble report strongly reflects that view. We will continue to advocate for science, for RHIC, and for Brookhaven Lab in all that we do.

- Doon Gibbs
Interim Laboratory Director

Tags: RHIC

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