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ITER in Irons?

May 28, 2004

The good ship ITER remains at sea without a port in sight. A site was to have been chosen in December 2003 but the six ITER participants (European Union [EU], Japan, China, Russia, Republic of Korea and the United States) remain split down the middle, with the EU, China and Russia supporting a site in France and the other three supporting a site in Japan.

There have been several meetings between EU and Japanese officials, to no avail. The most serious proposal to break the deadlock, having a major ITER supporting research center with capability to conduct experiments on ITER remotely at one site and the device itself at the other, is popular in Japan only if the device itself is in Japan and popular in the EU only if the device itself is in France.

The participants have reportedly agreed on how to share the construction costs and to a large degree on how to distribute the component construction tasks. Decisions on key personnel and organizational logistics await the site decision.

At a meeting of the the USDOE Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee March 29-30, USDOE Office of Science Director Ray Orbach told the committee that the U.S. was not playing an active role in trying to break the deadlock, believing it was a matter for the EU and Japan to resolve. Asked if the U.S. would consider changing its site preference to help break the deadlock, Orbach responded in the negative.

Recently there have appeared a series of newspaper articles reporting that Japan would offer to provide an additional sum in support of the ITER effort, variously reported as about $450 or $900 million. These reports have not been officially confirmed by the Japanese government, but one news account states that the additional funds would be offered in part to help pay the cost of providing a remote ITER research center in France and in part as a reserve in case any of the participants backs out of the project. One news account states that during recent talks between EU and Japanese officials, "the EU suggested that the plant could be built in Japan if Japan was willing to increase its contribution to help cover the construction cost of ITER-related facilities to be built in France." There was no confirmation of this from the EU.

In September 2002, the USDOE's Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee reiterated a position it had taken a year before that if the ITER project "does not move forward" by July 2004, then the U.S. should put forth the less ambitious FIRE project "as a U.S.-based burning plasma experiment with strong encouragement of international participation." However, the USDOE has indicated it plans to terminate its FIRE activities shortly and has already begun to redirect millions of dollars of its current fusion research effort in support of ITER on the assumption that ITER is going to proceed.

A meeting of the ITER International Team Leader with the Participant Team Leaders is scheduled for June 21 in Shanghai to discuss issues other than site selection. June 18 in Vienna is tentatively reserved for a ministerial meeting to discuss site selection, if circumstances warrant. EU research minister Philippe Busquin has said he would like to see the ITER site issue resolved before the end of the summer.

The latest ITER news is posted at http://fire.pppl.gov