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FYI Number 13: January 30, 2003

Abraham Announces U.S. Will Rejoin ITER

Today, Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham announced President Bush's decision that the U.S. will rejoin negotiations to build and operate an international fusion energy project, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). "The Bush Administration believes that fusion is a key element in U.S. long-term energy plans," according to a DOE press release, and ITER "will demonstrate essential fusion energy technologies...and will test key elements required to use fusion as a practical energy source."

The U.S. withdrew from participation in ITER in 1998, during the design phase, over concerns about the projected costs and project management. Since that time, the project has undergone significant restructuring. The current partners in the project are Canada, the European Union, Russia and Japan. China has also recently become a participant in the negotiations. Canada, Japan and the European Union have offered sites to host the facility. ITER is estimated to cost about $5 billion in constant 2002 dollars to build, and may become operational around 2014 if a site is chosen and construction begun by 2006.

Portions of Abraham's remarks, made today at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), follow. Some paragraphs have been combined in the interests of space. The full text of the Secretary's remarks is available at http://www.energy.gov/HQDocs/speeches/2003/janss/PPPLAllHands.html and further information on ITER can be found at http://www.ofes.fusion.doe.gov/iter.html.

POTENTIAL OF FUSION ENERGY:

"Over the lifetime of a child born today, the demand for energy will more than triple from what it is today. Most of that growth will take place in the developing world. And if fusion power proves practical, it will kick in at the right time. It will be there to meet the increasing need for large scale sources of clean energy around the world.

"That defines the promise of fusion. And it points to its great benefits. Fusion power produces no troublesome emissions, it is safe, and has few, if any, proliferation concerns. It creates no long term waste problems and runs on fuel readily available to all nations. Moreover, fusion plants could produce hydrogen ... our ultimate freedom fuel ... to power hundred of millions of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in the U.S. and abroad.

"So I want to acknowledge the strides you've made in developing this new energy source. But I also want to tell you that your task has just gotten bigger ... and more important than ever."

GLOBALIZATION OF SCIENCE:

"As everyone here knows, American science leads the world. Innovation, the willingness to take chances, the free and open exchange of ideas -- these are just some of the things that help propel American research. And I know - with certainty -- that we will continue this leadership role. We will never accept second best in science. But science in the 21st Century is often a global effort. Time and again, homegrown scientific discoveries turn out to be not so homegrown after all. Often, international cooperation is indispensable to achieving results. We have followed this course with our advanced nuclear power program, which is developing the next major improvement in nuclear reactors we call Generation-IV.

"Fusion energy is no different. Princeton, our other DOE labs, the university community and American industry, have pushed fusion research far beyond what many thought possible and made the prospects of fusion power credible. Now is the time to expand our scope and embrace international efforts to realize the promise of fusion energy. Now it is time to take the next step on the way to having fusion deliver electricity to the grid."

"The President has decided to take that step."

DECISION ON ITER:

"Therefore, I am pleased to announce today, that President Bush has decided that the United States will join the international negotiations on ITER.

"Today's decision is a logical extension of the President's National Energy Policy, which called on the Department to develop next-generation technology - including fusion. ITER will help us do just that ... for it has a clear objective ... to demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion energy. ITER will help answer tough questions about fusion power. It will advance both the science and technology of fusion by opening the way to a vast array of critical experiments. And it will produce industrial levels of fusion power for long durations.

"So, let me commend the efforts of our allies who have been working on ITER up to this point. All of us recognize the possibilities fusion power offers to feed the energy needs of growing economies around the world. And we know that this experiment is a crucial element in the path forward to satisfying global energy demand.

"As with all important scientific undertakings, there is no guarantee of success. We will no doubt encounter roadblocks. Experiments will fail. But there is something also true about science ... failure is often more fruitful than success. When you start on one path of discovery, you may end up on another more promising, more fascinating, and more rewarding road.

"President Bush has faith in American science. And he knows the huge energy challenges ... for the United States and for the world ... that fusion science seeks to tackle. And let me tell you, he is not one for taking baby steps when leaps are called for.

"By the time our young children reach middle age, fusion may begin to deliver energy independence ... and energy abundance ... to all nations rich and poor. Fusion is a promise for the future we must not ignore."

DOMESTIC FUSION ENERGY PROGRAM:

"But let me be clear, our decision to join ITER in no way means a lesser role for the fusion programs we undertake here at home. It is imperative that we maintain and enhance our strong domestic research program - at Princeton, at the universities and at our other labs. Critical science needs to be done in the U.S., in parallel with ITER, to strengthen our competitive position in fusion technology. So as optimistic as I am, our success in ITER will depend, in no small measure, on what we do in the United States...."

"The Department is exploring the full range of approaches to generating energy through fusion. Princeton, along with our other great national labs -- Oak Ridge, Lawrence Berkeley, Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore are joined by university researchers from some 30 states, making fusion science a truly national effort."

SCIENCE AT DOE:

"Many times when I have the chance to talk about science at DOE, I have to explain why basic research finds a home at a Department called Energy. In fact, we might well be called the Department of Energy and Science given the importance of our role in American and indeed international science.

"And the reason we are so deeply involved in science is simple. Our mission here at DOE ... as I have stressed since becoming Secretary ... is national security. And in my view, a serious commitment to national security demands a serious commitment to science, especially basic research. This commitment strengthens our energy security, international competitiveness, economic growth and intellectual leadership...."

"[I]f we ever hope to leapfrog today's energy challenges we must look to basic research. The kind of basic research you are doing here at the Princeton Lab.

"DOE is really a special place for science. We are willing to take risks on research, knowing that experiments at the cutting edge can lead in unexpected directions...."

"Still, few appreciate that fusion and plasma physics research have led, for example, to more efficient superconductors, better engines for satellites, more advanced MRIs and other diagnostic equipment that perform medical miracles, and revolutionary new coatings to improve performance of automobile and aircraft parts."

SCIENCE EDUCATION:

"Let me also say that I am truly impressed by your education programs. This could not be more important. I'm sure we all have noticed how interested young people are in science and how adept they are with technology. But something seems to happen to divert this enthusiasm of childhood, because we are all aware of the truly tragic state of science education in America. We need to correct this.

"The success of science depends on an influx of new, young people into every field. That's just not happening today. We are working to correct that. We are working on initiatives to support teacher training at our labs and I want to commend the fine progress you are making here at Princeton. Certainly an exciting new initiative in fusion energy will help motivate more students to pursue careers in science."

CONCLUSION:

"The President has made a historic decision to take a major step toward realizing the promise of fusion energy. He is looking to the Department of Energy and to the genius, commitment, and the passion for excellence found in our national labs and universities to help achieve this goal.

"Make no mistake. This commitment represents a critical moment for fusion science. The initiative is now with us. We cannot control what the science will tell us. But we can seize this opportunity to push the bounds of research further and faster than anyone could have dreamed. The President is confident that we are up to this challenge."

Abraham's audience included former PPPL assistant director Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), as well as observers from the European Union, Japan, Russia, Germany, Spain, France, the UK, Italy, Canada, and China. Holt applauded the decision to rejoin ITER, but warned "against diverting current domestic funding for fusion to ITER.... For fusion to meet its great promise, the U.S. must make sure to invest as much in its domestic research as it does in ITER."

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
(301) 209-3094

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