Supercomputer back in budget loop

Kyodo News

Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii and other key Cabinet members agreed Wednesday to allow the science ministry as a special case to earmark up to around ¥23 billion in the fiscal 2010 budget to support projects to develop a next-generation supercomputer.

The agreement came after a number of Japanese scientists, including Nobel Prize laureates, voiced strong opposition to the Democratic Party of Japan-led government’s move to freeze the projects as part of its efforts to cut wasteful spending.

A new government cost-cutting review last month demanded that the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology trim its budget allocations for the supercomputer to almost zero in the year starting April.

Hiroshi Ogushi, a parliamentary secretary for finance, told reporters the ministry will be allowed to seek up to ¥22.78 billion for the supercomputer in exchange for making an additional cut of ¥5 billion to its initial budget requests.

The government meanwhile scrubbed the GX rocket project, which was intended to put Japan in the commercial satellite launch business, saying Wednesday it would consume funds for other projects and its business prospects are not promising.

The government-private sector project was expected to require a further ¥94 billion in the state budget until the completion of the two-stage rocket. A state panel tasked with cutting wasteful spending had recommended it be scrapped. The cost of launching the rocket was estimated at ¥8 billion, a level judged unlikely to attract business from Russian and American ventures.

Also, the ruling Democratic Party of Japan asked Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama to set an income limit in providing allowances to families with children, putting him at risk of breaking one of his major promises to the electorate, amid budgetary constraints.