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June 25, 1998
Pena on ITER Extension
Energy Secretary Federico Pena has replied to Representative Joseph McDade's June 11 letter which called on Pena "to refrain from rushing into a new international agreement before there has been sufficient dialogue with our partners and Congress. (See FPN98-17).
In his response (dated June 19 but just sent June 24), Pena says, "We view the continuation of the ITER agreement, together with substantial reduction of an ITER financial commitment, as central to (our) strategy and seek your concurrence in signing the agreement extension."
The complete text of the Pena letter is as follows:
Dear Mr. Chairman:
Thank you for your letter of June 11, 1998, concerning the Department's plans for continued participation in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) collaboration. I believe that we are in basic agreement on the strategy for advancing fusion science and technology. We view continuation of the ITER agreement, together with substantial reduction of an ITER financial commitment, as central to that strategy and seek your concurrence in signing the agreement extension.
The conference report accompanying the FY 1996 Energy and Water Development Act instructed the Department to restructure its fusion program to emphasize fusion science, alternate concept development, and development of low activation materials. It also noted the importance of international cooperation in the construction of major new facilities. We endorse this program and, in concert with the research community, are well along in implementation.
I will focus here on the international directive, one that has been reaffirmed by the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology and by the Department's advisory committees. A January 1998 report of the Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee recommended: (1) exploration of new experimental and theoretical results through increased international cooperation, primarily on the JET and JT-60 devices in Europe and Japan, (2) restructuring our fusion energy technology efforts to conduct more non-ITER specific work, (3) continued ITER participation at a significantly lower level of funding, and (4) given the lack of ITER construction commitments, examination of lower-cost, reduced scope options for a burning plasma experiment. This strategy was endorsed by a broad spectrum of fusion community researchers at a workshop on approaches to burning plasma physics held in Madison, Wisconsin in April of this year.
Along these lines, our FY 1999 budget proposal would reduce direct ITER funding to $12 million (from $52.6 million in FY 1998), redirect our fusion technology program away from its specific ITER focus, and support significant American scientific work at JET and JT-60. The direct ITER funding would allow us to continue work with our ITER partners in Europe, Japan and Russia on design and eventual construction of an internationlly funded burning plasma experiment. We have successfully worked with our partners to refocus the collaboration on lower cost alternatives to the original ITER design. The ITER team and the many formal and informal relationships that have been built up through the ITER process are critical to sustaining international collaboration towards a burning plasma experiment in the foreseeable future. The collaboration focus for the next three years is very different from that of the past.
The current agreement terminates on July 21, 1998. Again we ask your concurrence for extending our participation at the proposed reduced funding level. Under Secretary Moniz is prepared to brief you and your colleagues on this issue at your convenience. We believe that continued collaboration with our ITER partners and support of our core ITER team represent the most cost effective path to participation in a future large scale fusionn experiment of great value to the U. S.program.
Sincerely, Federico Pena.