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June 30, 1998

FPN98-20 Fusion Program Notes

ITER Update

The ITER Council, the international governing body for the ITER project, met in "Extraordinary" session June 25, 1998 in Tokyo. The Counci reviewed "the progress made toward conclusion of the agreement extending the ITER EDA," and concluded "The Council understands that all Parties are making best efforts to resolve issues with a view to concluding the extension agreement and encouraged those Parties that have not yet signed to complete procedures leading to signature of the agreement as rapidly as possible."

The word from the meeting is that Europe and Russia are prepared to sign the agreement and that Japan is waiting to see what the U.S. is going to do. The U.S. was prepared to sign the agreement several weeks ago, but is now "on hold" pending meetings between DOE and certain key members of Congress. The U.S. House of Representatives has indicated its intent to try to "zero out" funding for ITER (see FPN98-17) and Appropriations Subcommittee chairman Joseph McDade has urged DOE to reconsider signing (see FPN98-19). Energy Secretary Pena, who is about to depart DOE, has indicated his desire to sign and asked for McDade's concurrence (see FPN98-19). The situation is now further complicated by a June 25 letter to Secretary Pena from House Science Committee chair James Sensenbrenner (see below) urging Pena a "delay in signing." The ITER agreement expires July 21.

At the June 25 meeting, the ITER Council urged the ITER Director "to continue efforts with high priority" to design a reduced cost version of ITER "aimed at a target of approximately 50% of the direct capital cost of the present design with reduced technical objectives." The Council asked the Director "to prepare an Outline Design Report of the low cost option for the design of ITER by the end of 1998." The Council also asked the Director to continue to assist the Special Working Group to look at "broader concepts" (than the reduced cost ITER). These "broader concepts" presumably include the so-called "Multiple Machine" strategy (see FPN98-12).

At the present time, the primary focus of the ITER agreement during the proposed extension is to prepare for construction of an international facility, "with the general intent to enable an efficient start of future possible construction of ITER." They "noted with satisfaction" statements from Japan and the European Union "that they are ready to provide available site characterisation data and to establish informal contact with regulatory authorities as a basis for site-specific joint technical work during the extension period, according to the Understandings for the extension."

The Council expressed its view that "an exended EDA agreement is the most cost-effective framework available to the Parties to continue international cooperation in fusion."

The text of the June 25 letter from Science Commiteee chairman James Sensenbrenner is reproduced in full below:

June 25, 1998

Dear Secretary Pena:

I am writing to express my concern that the Department may be considering signing an extension to an agreement to continue participation in International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) collaboration prior to the expiration of the current agreement on July 21, 1998.

A delay in signing an extension or the ITER collaboration agreement would seem prudent in light of both House and Senate report language accompanying the FY 1999 Energy and Water Development Appropriation Bill. The Senate report, accompanying the bill recommended that the Department, prior to committing to any future magnetic fusion program or facilities, conduct a broader review to determine which fusion technology or technologies the United States should pursue to achieve ignition and/or a fusion energy device. And the House report objected to the proposed extension and did not provide FY 1999 funds for ITER.

Departmental action to extend the ITER collaborative agreement in contradiction to clear instructions by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees during such a critical stage of the FY 1999 appropriations process could have adverse consequences for not only the Fusion Energy Sciences Program, but also for other important science and energy research and development programs. Consequently, I would strongly urge the Department to refrain from entering into any such agreement until Congressional concurrence can be obtained.


Committee on Science