In a May 5 address to a National Research Council fusion advisory
committee, Patrick Looney, Assistant Director for Physical Sciences
and Engineering at OSTP, presented the "Administration Perspective
ITER and Fusion Energy." This FYI summarizes a series of rather
provocative exhibits accompanying Looney's talk (see
Looney began by citing a long quotation by President Bush regarding
fusion's potential and ITER [International Thermonuclear Experimental
Reactor]: "I look forward to working with Congress to get it funded.
. . . It's an incredibly important project to be a part of." In
January, Bush announced his decision for the United States to rejoin
ITER, saying, "We welcome the opportunity to work with our partners
to make fusion energy a reality."
Outlining eleven elements in the decision to rejoin ITER, Looney
commented that "This is energy science not [underline not] an energy
technology." Looney noted that a burning plasma experiment was
crucial missing element in the fusion energy science program, and
that through it American researchers would have access to the
"world's most sophisticated burning plasma experiment."
Looney said that "If the US joins ITER it would not be as a lead
player." The United States is "absolutely neutral" as
to where the
facility would be located, he said, later adding that one of the next
steps in the process is to "continue to maintain US neutrality
site." The four sites under consideration are in Canada, France,
Japan and Spain. "The US has no interest in hosting ITER,"
told the panel. Note that last week, a press release on an EU Council
of Ministers Meeting on an ITER progress report stated, "Despite
objective differences in geographic location and the infrastructure
to be developed, none of the four sites has a decisive technical
advantage over the others and the report confirms that each of them
could meet the technical criteria required to host ITER.
Accordingly, the site will be selected through a political decision
which should be based on a range of additional technical and economic
considerations (in particular, estimates of construction and
Regarding funding, Looney told the panel that since ITER construction
would not begin until FY 2006 that the US decision "will be overall
budget neutral" until then. The Administration requested an increase
in DOE's Fusion Energy Sciences budget of 4.2%, or $10.4 million for
FY 2004. The current budget increased 2.4% over FY 2002, one of the
smallest increases in the budgets tracked by FYI (see FYI #51 at
It is of note that Looney's exhibits state: "There is not [a]
fusion energy initiative," and "There is no agreed upon fusion
energy development timeline." Finally, "The ITER decision
imply endorsement of other fusion-related initiatives."
Looney concluded his presentation to the panel with a series of
questions to resolve on issues such as how to determine if fusion is
a viable energy source, a priority list of scientific issues to
address, and factors to consider in a development plan.