ITER Under Construction

Written by Tim Lash, Focus Fusion Society Contributor.

Last week we covered fusion funding increases under the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) basic research wing, the Office of Science. However, additional fusion funding increases took place in other parts of the U.S. budget. The massive ITER project also received more funds than expected.

The ITER international fusion research initiative has seen the U.S. balk at its funding commitments. The 2017 budget only provided $50 million of the scheduled $107 million dollars. President Trump had threatened to likewise curtail U.S financial commitment in 2018. This would have meant a $63 million dollar U.S. contribution in 2018 instead of the scheduled $122 million. However, in the Omnibus Appropriations bill, Congress agreed to restore full 2018 U.S. funding to the $122 million level.

It may have helped that ITER Director-General Bernard Bigot was in Washington D.C. in December for talks with President Trump’s administration. This visit included Energy Secretary Rick Perry urging him to uphold America’s commitment. “This is a very positive signal … it will prevent ITER having to announce project delays in 2018,” Bigot told Reuters in a telephone interview. Of particular concern to Bigot was the supply of components constructed by American companies for the project. Cuts in the budget would cause delays in assembly. “If the American components do not arrive in time, the whole project will be delayed,” Bigot said.

Another ITER participant also increased its commitment. South Korea said it will send more scientists to ITER to help build its own clean energy facility down the road. The Ministry of Science said it will proceed with plans to raise the number of Korean scientists at ITER to 95 by 2026 from the current 32. ITER currently employs 825 scientists from seven consortium partner countries. “It is important for us to allow more Korean scientists to join the ITER project, as the most important asset we can get from the project is manpower,” a ministry official said. The ministry said it will nullify the 10-year limit for the work period in the consortium for Korean scientists. This will allow more scientists to join the National Fusion Research Institute after completing their duty at the ITER consortium.

For all the concerns with the giant international fusion project, progress continues. These recent announcements should keep more advancement coming.