Ray Orbach's comments on the future of fusion energy to the Fusion
Energy Sciences Advisory Committee could not have been more positive.
Orbach, director of the DOE Office of Science, praised the committee
for a "superb job," saying that the last eight months during
development consensus has been arrived at, have been "extraordinary."
Orbach charted a path forward for the development of fusion energy,
albeit while operating under a very tight budget.
"We are in a position of strength and real credibility,"
the committee at a March 5 meeting, citing the decision by the Bush
Administration to rejoin the partnership to construct ITER, the
world's first burning plasma machine. He cited a February 6 address
by the President, in which Bush explained the U.S. position on ITER
and fusion: ". . . the United States will work with Great Britain
and several European nations as well as Canada, Japan, Russia and
China to build a fusion test facility and create the largest and most
advanced fusion experiment in the world. I look forward to working
with Congress to get it funded. . . . It's an incredibly important
project to be a part of." The President continued, "We
opportunity to blaze new paths. I'm willing to get on the path. I
know the members of Congress here are willing to get on the path. It
makes sense for America to do so." Bush, Orbach said, wants
his legacy to be the release of America from the straitjacket of
imported oil. "It is a vote of confidence," he added.
Orbach then outlined a path forward for the fusion program. For the
short term, he will be working with "a very tough budget"
final FY 2003 appropriation, after all of the adjustments are
calculated, resulted in $9 million reduction from the original
request. (FY 2002 funding was $241 million; FY 2003 budget is $247
million; FY 2004 request is $257 million.) The FY 2005 DOE budget is
now under consideration, and the "dimensions are still unclear"
the fusion energy sciences program. A twenty-year DOE strategic plan
that will be released this month will be used to prioritize large
scale capital projects across all Office of Science programs
There is not likely to be a request for additional funding in a
supplemental bill for the current year, the director saying that DOE
must strike a balance between its programs. Looking beyond this
year, Orbach spoke with cautious optimism when he told the panel that
"we are going to try to work with the President's budget [request]"
for FY 2004. "My own sense is that these are going to be a couple
lean years" until ITER construction commences, he said.
While the United States has a target range of funding for its
contribution to ITER, Orbach gave, understandably, no hint of what
those figures are, saying it is a matter for negotiations. He added
that support for the domestic fusion program must be continued.
Future workforce projections were also touched on by Orbach. "We
have to do something," he said, explaining that without new efforts
to increase diversity, future advances "will not work."