The US’s Back And Forth on the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor Project

Dennis Normile in ScienceNOW:

The countries planning the world’s biggest fusion experiment have learned not to count on the United States. So this week’s decision by the U.S. Congress to strip out a planned $149 million contribution in 2008 to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) won’t halt next year’s planned start of the project in Cadarache, France (ScienceNOW, 18 December). But ITER officials say that they will miss the 9% U.S. share if the latest budget decision means that the United States is pulling out–for the second time–of the $12 billion project.

“I don’t think there would be a big impact on the overall ITER plan” if the U.S. contribution is delayed, says Hiroki Matsuo, director for fusion energy at Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology. He says that the project is at the stage at which partners are making components, and rescheduling could accommodate a late part or two. It would be a more serious matter if the United States withdraws from ITER or fails to provide the funding it has promised, says Norbert Holtkamp, principal deputy director-general of the ITER organization. Even then, however, Holtkamp says a 9% hole in the budget “will do harm, but it’s not going to kill” ITER. The European Union, as host, has agreed to provide 49% of the budget, with the other partners–Japan, China, India, Russia, South Korea, and the United States–divvying up the rest.