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Booster Shot for Japanese Science

TOKYO--Japan's economic doldrums have provided a windfall for the country's researchers. The Diet, Japan's parliament, has approved $1.3 billion for science-related spending as part of a $21.9 billion supplemental budget intended to jump start the economy.

Most of the science spending will go for facilities and equipment. The Ministry of Education, Science, Sports, and Culture, for example, is getting $520 million, nearly all of which will supplement ongoing efforts to refurbish university labs. The ministry also got $32 million for Japan's role in planning the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva. A number of large-scale domestic projects--including the international space station and the Super Photon Ring 8-GeV (SPRing 8) synchrotron being built near Kobe--are also receiving new money. Hiromichi Kamitsubo, an official at the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research involved with SPRing 8, says the funds will speed up the completion of ancillary facilities.

There are exceptions to the emphasis on hardware, however. Most of the $272 million going to the Ministry of International Trade and Industry will be split into small grants to private companies to support research in emerging industries and information technologies.

The government has adopted supplemental budgets nearly every year since economic growth fizzled in the early 1990s. The spending, particularly when used for public-works construction, has been criticized as wasteful political pork. But most think the money targeted for science is being spent well, and scientists certainly welcome it. Says SPRing 8's Kamitsubo, "The powerful support this project has received has been very beneficial."