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December 10, 1998
Prospects for ITER Improve
Prospects for construction of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor have improved recently due to two actions in Japan certifying that they are prepared to move forward in concert with Russia and Europe, even if the U.S. continues its policy of withdrawal from the project (FPN98-30). However, the recent announcement that Rep. Ron Packard of Calilfornia will take over as chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water, a key source of ITER opposition, has also given ITER supporters in the U.S. new hope that U.S. support of ITER could make a comeback in the future. Packard has been a staunch supporter of ITER and fusion in the past.
In Japan, the Fusion Council had three meetings in November devoted to the issue of whether to change its national policy (called the "Basic Program") of planning for two steps to a fusion demonstration power plant: tokamak engineering test reactor followed by Demo. On November 25 the Council voted that no change in their program strategy was technically warranted in spite of the change in U.S policy which de-emphasizes tokamak development in favor of a broad research program on fusion science and increased emphasis on non-tokamak concepts. The Council asserted that ITER and the so-called "reduced cost ITER" fulfill the requirements for an experimental reactor and stated that "In addition, it can be judged that the multi-machine strategy, addressing missions of ITER divided to multiple machines, being proposed by the U.S. for tokamak development is presently not sufficiently persuasive, because it eventually requires higher cost and a longer time period." The Council further "judged that the ITER EDA can be continued and completed, and its goal can be attained, even in the case that the ITER EDA is implemented by the three Parties of Japan, European Union and Russia upon U.S. withdrawal."
The Council "confirmed that Japan should continue to actively promote the ITER project because the ITER Project remains as the most important project in fusion research and development in Japan by the national endeavor without any change, and it is possible to continue and complete the EDA by the three Parties of Japan, EU and RF, and further, it was judged that the ITER Project is an effective means to attain the goal of the Basic Program." They said, "The lesson learned from the unexpected withdrawal of the U.S from the collaboration indicates that it is necessary to recognize that there always exists a potential problem related to a sudden change in the policies or reduction of budget in the Parties in the ITER Project that are inherent to international collaborative projects and, in particular, close mutual understandings with other Parties such as EU and RF will be necessary."
Following the action of the Fusion Council, the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, on December 4, "accepted the report (of the Fusion Council) on a possible strategy for Japan to proceed with the ITER Project." The Commission said the recommendations were "appropriate, taking into account comprehensive considerations such as the significance of fusion research and development in Japan, the major role of ITER in the national program and the situation of the international partners concerned with the ITER project."
The Commission said, "In order to realize ITER in the future, it is most important, through the ITER Engineering Design Activities by the three Parties, to establish a clear perspective on the scientific and technological aspects, with a cost as low as practical. And, in parallel with with the Engineering Design Activities, it is indispensable to devote maximum efforts to preparation of the required circumstances, by intensive consultation among the three Parties on clarification of criteria, so that we can make a concrete judgement toward the construction of ITER that follows."
The Commission concluded, "Based on this report from the Fusion Council, the Commission reaffirms that fusion research and development should be steadily promoted by consolidating domestic and world-wide wisdom towards utilization of fusion energy, standing on a long-range viewpoint. To this end, it is important for Japan to continue promoting seriously the ITER Project as a leading partner, and the Commission also requests the people concerned to devote further efforts upon the above understanding."
Meanwhile, in the U.S. it was announced that California Republican Ron Packard, of the San Diego area, would take over as Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees the fusion budget. Packard has been a consistent supporter of fusion and ITER. Packard's predecessor, Joseph McDade, who is retiring from Congress, had fired off a letter last June (FPN98-17) asking the Department of Energy to hold off signing on to the ITER EDA extension and his committee has explicitly stated "that no obligation exists for future participation in ITER beyond Fiscal Year 1998." It is reasonable to anticipate that ITER advocates in the U.S. will seek ways to get Packard's endorsement for a renewed U.S. participation in ITER in the future.