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Fusion Priorities Panel Provides Interim Report

July 27, 2004

Charles Baker, chair of the Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (FESAC) Panel on Program Priorities (FPN03-68 and 04-13) provided an interim report to FESAC at its meeting July 26-27 in Gaithersburg, MD. A version of the interim report is posted at http://www.mfescience.org/fesac/comments/att-0026/Draft_PP_interim_report_R_pdf and other information, including the charge letter, are posted at http://www.mfescience.org/fesac/index.html.

The FESAC was asked by DOE on October 23, 2003 for a "prioritized balancing of the (fusion) program" assuming the construction of ITER and "includes ITER as an integrated part of the whole."

In its interim report, the Panel proposes three "overarching themes" and fifteen "more scientific questions central to the advancement of fusion energy." The Panel says that "for each topical scientific question, an accompanying research approach was formulated, spanning the next ten years." They say "The approaches identified a limited number of research thrusts needed to address the most important aspects of each question. These research thrusts provide much of the core information required to develop campaigns."

Baker indicated that the next phase of the Panel's work would be to develop the "campaigns," which would cut across the scientific questions, and to prioritize the campaigns. He said that many members of his panel were uncomfortable with proceeding with the next phase of the activity assuming ITER was moving ahead when in fact it was not. Several members of FESAC, including its chairman, expressed similar reservations. DOE fusion director, N. Anne Davies, firmly resisted any suggestion that the Panel delay its activity or write two scenarios, one with ITER and one without. DOE is assuming ITER is going ahead in all its internal planning, she said.

It was pointed out that the budget assumptions given to the panel by DOE in October 2003 were seriously out of date. In addition to a case based on the FY 2003 funding level of $257 million plus inflation plus construction funds for ITER, DOE told the FESAC to consider a case in which the funding level for FY 2004 was $335 million, increasing to $393 million in FY 2009 and a case intermediate between these two cases. The actual funding levels turned out to be $247 M in FY 2003 and $263 M in FY 2004 and the President only asked for $264 M in FY 2005. Davies promised to provide new budget guidance for the study.

A final report is due at the next FESAC meeting, tentatively scheduled for December 8-9 in Gaithersburg, MD.