Center for Strategic Communication

Adrian Cho of ScienceInsider published an article about how a group of Senators sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to clarify how much ITER will cost the U.S. government. The U.S. is obligated to pay for 9% of the total cost, with the rest shared by other countries. The Senators are concerned that rising commitments to ITER will cut into the domestic fusion program. From the article:

“At a time when federal budgets for research are likely to be constrained for the foreseeable future, concerns have been raised that funding for other U.S. fusion energy science programs and user facilities have [sic], and may continue to be, cut to pay for increasing ITER costs,” write Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the chair and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the chair and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. GAO is Congress’s investigative arm, and lawmakers frequently ask it to review projects that have raised budgetary flags.

ITER aims to show that a fusion generator, or tokamak, can generate more energy than it consumes. There’s no doubt that ITER has proved to be a lot more expensive than estimated when the official agreement to build the device was signed in 2006. Back then, ITER was estimated to cost roughly $12 billion, and the Department of Energy (DOE), which funds U.S. fusion research, estimated that the U.S. share would cost $1.1 billion. Now, that number has more than doubled. DOE currently estimates that it can fulfill the U.S. obligations for $2.4 billion, as least until the ITER tokamak gets going and achieves “first plasma.” However, DOE’s budget request for fiscal year 2014, which starts on 1 October, acknowledges that figure “is not a bottom-up estimate but is the judgment by DOE and its oversight organizations of appropriate cost for reaching first plasma.”

To read the full article, click here.