Source: Knoxville News Sentinel | Frank Munger | May 31, 2016
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz this week released a much-anticipated report on U.S. participation in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, and he recommends that the U.S. continue its role in the biggest fusion energy project in history.
But the issue is far from settled, and the next step may come during the House and Senate conference committee on the fiscal year 2017 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill.
The Senate version of the bill, which was authored by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Appropriations, Energy and Water Subcommittee, contains no funding for U.S. involvement in the ITER. Alexander and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, reportedly met with Moniz on Wednesday to discuss the situation.
The U.S. work on the ITER is based at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
In the newly released report, Moniz cited recent improvements on several fronts on the ITER, which earlier suffered schedule and cost setbacks and allegations of poor management. But the energy chief acknowledged there are ongoing issues, and he said even if the U.S. stays a member of the international project, it should be re-evaluated in a couple of years.
“ITER remains the best candidate today to demonstrate sustained burning plasma, which is a necessary precursor to demonstrating fusion energy power,” Moniz said in a personal message in the report.
“Having fully assessed the facts regarding the U.S. contributions to the ITER project, I recommend that the U.S. remain a partner in the ITER project through FY 2018 and focus on efforts related to First Plasma.”
He concluded: “At this time, our continued participation in the fashion recommended is consistent with DOE’s science mission and is in the best interest of the nation.”
Besides the United States, other members of the ITER are the European Union, Japan, China, South Korea, India and Russia.
“In a time of tight budgets, the secretary of energy’s report on U.S. participation in the ITER Project in France makes clear that moving ahead with the project would come at the expense of other Office of Science priorities that the Department of Energy considers more important — and that I consider more important,” Alexander said in a statement released by his office.
“Those projects include upgrading the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory, developing exascale supercomputers and constructing the Second Target Station at the Spallation Neutron Source in Oak Ridge.”
The Moniz report addresses the science priorities, but it’s not really clear whether the ITER ranks ahead of other projects or not.