Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz issued a report May 26 recommending that the United States remain a member in an international effort to develop nuclear fusion for two more years although the Department of Energy (DOE) wants to see certain problems addressed before it backs a longer U.S. commitment.
At issue is the ITER project – ITER is a Latin term meaning “The Way.”
In southern France, “35 nations are collaborating to build the world’s largest tokamak, a magnetic fusion device that has been designed to prove the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale and carbon-free source of energy based on the same principle that powers our Sun and stars,” according to the ITER website.
“ITER is a complex project scientifically, technically, organizationally and politically,” according to the DOE report.
“The costs have continued to increase and the schedule has continued to slip over the years,” DOE said.
The estimated costs for the IO [ITER Organization] scope have increased five-fold since 2003, while the estimated U.S. costs have risen from $1.1bn to a range between $4bn and $6.5bn.
The schedule to achieve First Plasma [FP] has slipped from November 2020 in the most recently approved baseline to no sooner than December 2025, and that date does not include any schedule contingency.
In developing this report’s recommendation, DOE considered the effects on the fusion program; scientific and technical viability of the facility; diplomatic and national security effects; and anticipated budgetary resources at DOE,” the department said.
DOE also considered the international commitment the U.S. made in the earlier international agreement in 2007.
The U.S. became a Member of ITER when the Agreement on the Establishment of the ITER Fusion Energy Organization for the Joint Implementation of the ITER Project (JIA), a binding international agreement, entered into force in 2007.
The other members are China, the European Union (EU), India, Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Russia.
As host, the EU committed to covering 45.46% of the construction costs, while the other members each committed to 9.09% of the construction costs. For the U.S. and members other than the EU, the costs rise to 13% during operations. As a member, the U.S. gains full access to all research data from ITER.