TOKYO—When the Japanese government on 29 January approved a budget for the year beginning in April, at first glance scientists appeared to be the big losers. The Ministry of Education's S&T budget, which covers the lion's share of the nation's research spending, will decline 3.3%, to $13.2 billion.
A closer analysis suggests that scientists shouldn't complain too much. Accounting for roughly two-thirds of the drop at the Education Ministry is the transfer of nuclear safety research to a new regulatory agency. And the year-on-year budget comparison does not include research spending included in a stimulus package adopted earlier this month. Although the stimulus funds must be disbursed by the end of March, they will support research activity well into the next fiscal year. The Education Ministry makes that point in the budget documents now posted on its Web site in Japanese by noting amounts appropriated in the stimulus alongside relevant budget items. For example, funding for the use of large research facilities (whether the funding goes to users or the facilities is not clear)—including the SPring-8 synchrotron, the Japan Proton Accelerator Research Complex, and the K supercomputer—will drop by $42 million to $541 million year-on-year; but that drop is more than covered by $299 million in stimulus spending to support the use of those big machines.
The new budget showers money on a few fields. Support for a program aiming to speed the commercialization of regenerative medicine, including the use of induced pluripotent stem cells, will double to $99 million, after getting $141 million in the stimulus. A program to support drug discovery will see a nearly ninefold increase in support, to $47 million, even after getting $15 million in the stimulus. Other winners include:
- Next generation energy technologies, nearly tripling to $80 million
- ITER, the experimental fusion reactor under construction in Cadarache, France, increasing 40%, to $185 million
- Development work on the Hayabusa 2 asteroid sample return spacecraft and the Advanced Land Observing Satellite-2, rising 80%, to $160 million, after getting $113 million in the stimulus package
Most of these programs are in line with the new government's goals of supporting innovative research that will have an economic payoff and spending on hardware to immediately boost the economy. Support for investigator-driven research is holding steady, with funding for grants to individual scientists and small groups up a mere 0.5% to $2.5 billion.