The Bush Administration's Views on ITER

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Publication date: 
19 May 2003

In a May 5 address to a National Research Council fusion advisory committee, Patrick Looney, Assistant Director for Physical Sciences and Engineering at OSTP, presented the "Administration Perspective on ITER and Fusion Energy." This FYI summarizes a series of rather provocative exhibits accompanying Looney's talk (see

Looney began by citing a long quotation by President Bush regarding fusion's potential and ITER [International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor]: "I look forward to working with Congress to get it funded. . . . It's an incredibly important project to be a part of." In January, Bush announced his decision for the United States to rejoin ITER, saying, "We welcome the opportunity to work with our partners to make fusion energy a reality."

Outlining eleven elements in the decision to rejoin ITER, Looney commented that "This is energy science not [underline not] an energy technology." Looney noted that a burning plasma experiment was the crucial missing element in the fusion energy science program, and that through it American researchers would have access to the "world's most sophisticated burning plasma experiment."

Looney said that "If the US joins ITER it would not be as a lead player." The United States is "absolutely neutral" as to where the facility would be located, he said, later adding that one of the next steps in the process is to "continue to maintain US neutrality on site." The four sites under consideration are in Canada, France, Japan and Spain. "The US has no interest in hosting ITER," Looney told the panel. Note that last week, a press release on an EU Council of Ministers Meeting on an ITER progress report stated, "Despite objective differences in geographic location and the infrastructure to be developed, none of the four sites has a decisive technical advantage over the others and the report confirms that each of them could meet the technical criteria required to host ITER. Accordingly, the site will be selected through a political decision which should be based on a range of additional technical and economic considerations (in particular, estimates of construction and operational costs.)"

Regarding funding, Looney told the panel that since ITER construction would not begin until FY 2006 that the US decision "will be overall budget neutral" until then. The Administration requested an increase in DOE's Fusion Energy Sciences budget of 4.2%, or $10.4 million for FY 2004. The current budget increased 2.4% over FY 2002, one of the smallest increases in the budgets tracked by FYI (see FYI #51 at /fyi/2003/051.html .)

It is of note that Looney's exhibits state: "There is not [a] broader fusion energy initiative," and "There is no agreed upon fusion energy development timeline." Finally, "The ITER decision will not imply endorsement of other fusion-related initiatives."

Looney concluded his presentation to the panel with a series of questions to resolve on issues such as how to determine if fusion is a viable energy source, a priority list of scientific issues to address, and factors to consider in a development plan.

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