Fusion Power Associates
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Gaithersburg, MD 20879
phone: (301) 258-0545
fax: (301) 975-9869
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FESAC ITER Deadline Passes

July 28, 2004

Following the two-week 2002 Fusion Summer Study (FPN02-48), at which over 280 fusion scientists gathered to discuss the major next-step in the U.S. fusion program, a panel of the DOE Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (FESAC) met in Austin, Texas, to recommend "a burning plasma program strategy to advance fusion energy." The Panel, chaired by Prof. Stewart Prager (U. Wisconsin), recommended that the U.S. rejoin the international ITER project with the understanding that "The Department of Energy concludes, by July 2004, that ITER is highly likely to proceed to construction and terms have been negotiated that are acceptable to the United States." They said, "Demonstrations of likelihood could include submission to the partner governments of an agreement on cost sharing, selection of the site, and a plan for the ITER Legal Entity." The Panel found that ITER, FIRE (a U.S. design) and Ignitor (a potential Italian project) were all viable routes to study burning plasmas. Though they favored ITER, they said that "If ITER does not move forward, then FIRE should be advanced as a U.S.-based burning plasma experiment with strong encouragement of international participation." They also said, "If Ignitor is constructed in Italy, then the United States should collaborate in the program by research participation and contributions of related equipment, as it does with other major international facilities." The Panel cautioned DOE that the recommended program could not be accomplished on a flat budget, saying "A strong core science and technology program is essential to the success of the burning plasma effort, as well as the overall development of fusion energy. Hence, this core program should be increased in parallel with the burning plasma science initiative." The full FESAC endorsed the report in a September 13, 2002 letter to DOE Office of Science Director Ray Orbach (FPN02-63).

A year later, in September 2003, the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academies, issued the report of its Burning Plasma Assessment Committee, chaired by Ray Fonck (U. Wisconsin) and John Ahearne (Sigma Xi) (FPN03-57). The 170-page report concludes that "a burning plasma experiment is critically needed to advance fusion science," that "undertaking a burning plasma experiment cannot be done on a flat budget," and that "if negotiations proceed successfully, the fusion science program will move ahead with the ITER endeavor." The Committee recommended that "the United States should participate in ITER," and that "if the ITER negotiations fail, the United States should continue, as soon as possible, to pursue the goal of conducting a burning plasma experiment with international partners." The Committee stated "A strategically balanced U. S. fusion program should be developed that includes U. S. participation in ITER, a strong domestic fusion science and technology portfolio, an integrated theory and simulation program, and support for plasma science. As the ITER project develops, a substantial augmentation in fusion science program funding will be required in addition to the direct financial commitment to ITER construction." The Committee acknowledged that it did not review the needs and prospects for inertial confinement fusion.

Since 2002, the U.S has maintained a substantial effort on the design of the FIRE option as a contingency in case ITER did not proceed. That work is currently targeted for termination on September 30. N. Anne Davies, director of the U.S. fusion program, told a July 26-27 meeting of FESAC that if ITER failed to proceed the U.S, would have to reassess its program strategy.