Representatives Press for U.S. Participation in ITER

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Publication date: 
29 January 2003

President Bush sends his FY 2004 budget request to Congress next Monday. Of great interest to the fusion community is what the Department of Energy will request for the Fusion Energy Sciences Program. Yesterday, five key members of the House Science Committee wrote to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, telling him: "We urge you to send a clear message to the ITER community that the U.S. plans to participate in the negotiations and the subsequent design, construction and operation of the facility." The Bush Administration is expected to announce its decision regarding U.S. participation in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor in the near future.

The full text of this letter, signed by House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), Ranking Minority Member Ralph Hall (D-TX), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) and George Nethercutt (R-WA) follows:

"Dear Mr. Secretary:

"We are writing to express our support for U.S. participation in one of the most important endeavors being undertaken by the international energy sciences community - the ITER project. Since the 1998 U.S. withdrawal from ITER, the project has been substantially redesigned, its costs have been greatly reduced and a strong consensus has developed in the scientific community in favor of U.S. participation. The November 20, 2002, letter to Dr. Orbach from the NRC Burning Plasma Assessment Committee also supported this participation but specified: 'any U.S. involvement should at a minimum guarantee
* access to all data from ITER,
* the right to propose and carry out experiments, and
* a role in producing the high technology components of the facility, consistent with the size of the U.S. contribution to the program.'

"At the next ITER meeting in February, the roles of the participants will be set. Our failure to attend this meeting would jeopardize our ability to participate fully in the project and severely disadvantage our fusion energy program. In light of such factors, it is clearly time for the Department of Energy to take the necessary steps to reenter the ITER negotiations and to prepare for a renewed partnership in ITER.

"With our increasing reliance on imported fossil fuels, and growing concern about greenhouse gas emissions, other potential sources of power must be aggressively pursued. In the case of fusion, it seems clear that international collaboration is the most efficient and affordable path to a commercial energy source. With the support of the Administration, the concurrence of Congress and with your leadership, the U.S. contribution to ITER will benefit the U.S. science and technology base. Even though it will be years before fusion energy can be used to generate electric power, the eventual payoff of a large new supply of clean energy is too great to ignore.

"For the past five years, ITER negotiations have continued without U.S. involvement. We urge you to send a clear message to the ITER community that the U.S. plans to participate in the negotiations and the subsequent design, construction and operation of the facility. Funding of ITER reentry at a credible level will guarantee that the U.S. research community will have the strongest voice possible in positioning itself in the project and its work packages. We must ensure that our domestic fusion program is strong and that a new generation of scientists is inspired to work in this area.

"We thank you for your attention to this matter and look forward to your support of ITER and domestic fusion energy research."

Approximately two months ago, in remarks before a National Research Council committee, John Marburger, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, stated: "I believe the US fusion community needs access to a burning plasma experiment, and the time frame for the decision to enter into ITER is being driven by ongoing negotiations. The ITER parties are on schedule to reach a consensus on a preferred site, cost sharing arrangements and a Director General in or around April 2003. Should the Administration decide to enter ITER, it would be desirable to have the US enter sooner rather than later." (See FYI #136 at /fyi/2002/136.html).

As reported earlier in FYI #102 at /fyi/2002/102.html, the Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee issued a report last fall stating: "Since ITER is at an advanced stage, has the most comprehensive science and technology program, and is supported internationally, we should now seek to join the ITER negotiations with the aim of becoming a partner in the undertaking." "The desired role is that the U.S. participates as a partner in the full range of activities, including full participation in the governance of the project and the program. We anticipate that this level of effort will likely require additional funding of approximately $100M/yr."

The FY 2003 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill has still not been passed, with many on Capitol Hill now predicting that a final omnibus bill containing all eleven outstanding appropriations bills will not be completed until the later part of February. Last September, the House passed a bill that would flat-line DOE's Fusion Energy Sciences Program budget at the FY 2002 level of $248.5 million. The Senate version of this bill, passed earlier in the year, would have increased program funding by 4.4%, or $10.8 million for FY 2003.

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