DOE Under Secretary for Science Ray Orbach gave an upbeat, but at times
a cautious, report at last week's meeting of the Fusion Energy Sciences
Advisory Committee (FESAC). Pointing to President Bush's FY 2007 requested
increase of 10.9% for fusion energy sciences and the House approval
of this figure and other Office of Science requested increases, Orbach
told the committee that it was "a vote of confidence in us, in
science." It is, he said, citing support on both ends of Pennsylvania
Avenue for the research programs under his jurisdiction, "a magnificent
moment in time for science."
Orbach is determined that the United States maintain its tradition
of leadership in the physical sciences. "Your recommendations should
be guided by keeping the U.S. at the front of the field," he instructed
FESAC, which has been charged with advising DOE about the future fusion
research program. "You have done a magnificent job" Orbach
told the committee, which is chaired by Stewart Prager of the University
Several steps must be taken before U.S. construction funds can be spent.
On May 24, Orbach initialed the ITER Joint Implementation Agreement
which marked the conclusion of lengthy seven party negotiations (see
This Agreement will "lie before" Congress for 120 days, as
mandated by the Energy Policy Act (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/119.html.)
The Office of Science kept Congress informed during the ITER negotiations
and addressed comments that had arisen, so there should be no surprises.
The Agreement will be signed in late November, and then ratified and
formally accepted in early 2007. The ITER Organization will be established
in mid 2007. During this period, the U.S. will have high-level participation
in several ITER meetings. DOE has submitted candidates for three ITER
Deputy Director General positions.
DOE will contribute 9.5% of ITER's construction costs, much of which
will be in-kind contributions. It will provide 13.0% of the operating
costs, higher than some partners' 10% contribution, an amount, Orbach
said, to "keep America front and center." Orbach also spoke
of the plan to increase significantly fusion energy sciences funding
in coming years. In March, DOE released its Five Year Plan for FY 2007
- FY 2011 which provided calculated placeholder figures projecting steadily
increasing funding for the fusion program, from $287.6 million in FY
2006 (this year) to $501.0 million in FY 2010 (see http://www.sc.doe.gov/Budget_and_Planning/index.htm.)
While the legal structure for ITER has come into focus, its actual
ten-year construction is more unsettled. "We are really worried
about cost and schedule for a project as complex as this," Orbach
said, hastening to add that the project partners have a "tremendous
responsibility to stay on budget and on time." Explaining that
70% of the support that the partners will provide will be in-kind contributions
of components made in many areas of the world, Orbach asked, "will
it fit, will it work?"
Despite these concerns, Orbach is a strong supporter of fusion energy.
"Everyone is looking to fusion to get us out of the [energy supply]
box," he told the committee. "It's up to us to make it work,"
adding that it is "time to get our act together and make it happen."