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FYI Number 167: November 21, 2005

Boehlert Demands A Plan for ITER Financing

"I am not going to allow the U.S. to enter into an international commitment that it cannot afford. I would rather kill the ITER project. The fusion community will have to be realistic. It cannot have all its current projects and ITER. And it will not." - House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY)

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), the chairman of the House Science Committee, has been vocal over his concern that the U.S.'s participation in ITER, the international fusion research project, will be jeopardized unless plans are made to restructure the domestic fusion program to pay for the international effort. This spring, he succeeded in getting the House to adopt an amendment to the FY 2006 Energy and Water Appropriations bill that would have prevented the U.S. from entering into an agreement "obligating the United States to contribute funds to ITER" prior to March 1, 2006 (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/077.html). Boehlert is a supporter of ITER, but as he explained at the time, "ITER is expensive. The U.S. contribution is expected to exceed $1 billion. And I want to make sure that before we commit a dime to ITER that we have a consensus on how we will find that money." The amendment, he said, was intended to "ensure that the Administration and the Congress and the fusion science community agree on how we're going to pay for ITER before we sign on the dotted line."

This provision was eliminated during the House-Senate conference on the Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill. In a prepared statement during House debate of the conference report, Boehlert highlighted this omission: "The conferees dropped House language preventing an agreement on ITER...from being finalized before March 1. This language, which I offered and the House approved by voice vote, was designed to prevent the U.S. from moving ahead with ITER until we had a consensus on how to finance the billion-dollar U.S. contribution."

"I want to make clear to everyone concerned that I will do everything in my power to kill the ITER project if there is not an agreement by March that the domestic fusion program has to be scaled back to pay for ITER," Boehlert declared. "Fusion science is important and may be a key to our energy future," he said, "but it cannot consume the entire budget of the Office of Science. And that is what will happen if the domestic program is held harmless while ITER is constructed."

The full text of Boehlert's November 9 statement follows:

"I rise in support of this bill, and I want to thank Chairman Hobson for working on behalf of the civilian research and development programs of the Department of Energy. Needless to say, I wish the bill could have been even kinder to those programs, but I know that Chairman Hobson pressed on their behalf.

"I want, though, to bring attention to one concern I have about the conference report. The conferees dropped House language preventing an agreement on ITER , the international fusion project, from being finalized before March 1. This language, which I offered and the House approved by voice vote, was designed to prevent the U.S. from moving ahead with ITER until we had a consensus on how to finance the billion-dollar U.S. contribution.

"You'd think that would just be common sense in this period of fiscal austerity when we are talking about cutting programs that Americans rely on. But the House language has been replaced by weak report language calling for a study by the Government Accountability Office."

[The Conference report language is as follows: "In addition, the conferees direct the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to undertake a study of the Office of Science Fusion Energy Sciences program in order to define the role of the major domestic facilities in support of the ITER, including recommendations on the possible consolidation or focus of operations to maximize their research value in support of ITER."]

"I understand why, in the give and take of conference negotiations, my provision may have had to go away. But the issue is not going to go away.

"I want to make clear to everyone concerned that I will do everything in my power to kill the ITER project if there is not an agreement by March that the domestic fusion program has to be scaled back to pay for ITER.

"I am not going to allow the U.S. to enter into an international commitment that it cannot afford. I would rather kill the ITER project.

"The fusion community will have to be realistic. It cannot have all its current projects and ITER. And it will not.

"This year's appropriation already makes clear why this is so. Just about every area of activity under the DOE Office of Science sees a cut, especially if earmarks are excluded, except Fusion Energy Sciences. Fusion science is important and may be a key to our energy future, but it cannot consume the entire budget of the Office of Science. And that is what will happen if the domestic program is held harmless while ITER is constructed.

"So I look forward to working with my colleagues on Appropriations and all my colleagues to make sure that the U.S. handles its international commitments responsibly. No one should misread what happened in this conference. The ITER program is in grave danger, and I guarantee you that it will not be completed with U.S. participation unless there is a more realistic plan to fund it."

Boehlert's is not a voice to be ignored. It is of note that he was a key player in the cancellation of the Superconducting Super Collider. It is also worth recalling that former Science Committee chairmen, such as James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), have used their influence to affect the terms of the U.S.'s participation in international projects such as the Large Hadron Collider.

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

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