Utah lawmakers came to the special legislative session Friday skeptical about spending $5 million on the University of Utah's fusion experiment, although most leaders anticipate the money will be allocated.
Sen. Richard B. Tempest, R-Salt Lake, echoed the concerns of many colleagues when he said: "What do we have here, fusion or what? And why don't we wait until it's proven before we spend $5 million?"That was the question of the hour - one that likely won't be answered for some time.
Gov. Norm Bangerter told lawmakers in an opening address that he doesn't really know what U. chemist B. Stanley Pons has found.
"But that isn't really the issue. There's always people who can suggest 100 reasons not to do something. I ask you to find one reason why it can be done."
Bangerter promised the $5 million won't be wasted. If Pons' experiment can't be duplicated, or if its commercial viability not proven, the money won't be spent.
He quoted from scriptures, saying he who doesn't act may be damned. "I don't want to be damned. If this (experiment) works there is great potential for Utah, for the United States, for all mankind."
But controversy filled the halls Friday morning. Besides skepticism over spending the $5 million, there were also complaints over provisions of the bill setting up a special Fusion Advisory Council.
As written, the bill would give Bangerter the power to appoint the seven-member council which would decide if the U. experiment worked and allocate the $5 million for commercial research.
The council would be sworn to secrecy, subject to jail terms and fines if members talked about its proceedings - the fear being lose lips could sink technological advancements. That secret proceeding drew concerns from various groups, including the Society of Professional Journalists.
In addition, lawmakers worried about the proposed makeup of the council - four scientists and three business experts. They're concerned that such a gung-ho group might spend the $5 million even if Pons' experiment turns out to provide only questionable commercial application.
Lawmakers hope to act on the $5 million Friday, but they could recess and meet again any time over the next 30 days.