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Drawing of the ITER reactor in action.

Drawing of the ITER reactor in action.


Senate subcommittee moves to pull U.S. out of ITER fusion project

For the second year in a row, Senate budgetmakers have moved to pull the United States out of ITER, the huge and hugely over budget international fusion experiment under construction in Cadarache, France. The cut comes in the Senate version of the so-called energy and water spending bill, which would fund the Department of Energy (DOE) and other agencies for fiscal year 2016, which begins 1 October. But nixing ITER is hardly a done deal: On 1 May, legislators in the House of Representatives passed their own version of the energy and water bill, which includes $150 million for the U.S. contribution to ITER—the amount the White House has requested.

"This year we have recommended eliminating funding for the U.S. contribution [to ITER],” said Senator Lamar Alexander (R–TN) chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development at the subcommittee's markup of the bill today. "This saves $150 million in just this year." The subcommittee also moved to cut funding to ITER last year, when the Democrats controlled the Senate and Dianne Feinstein (D–CA) chaired the energy and water subcommittee. But the final budget bill for fiscal year 2015, signed by President Barack Obama on 16 December 2014, contained $150 million for the project.

The $35.4 billion bill would bump spending on DOE's basic research arm, the Office of Science, by 1.5% to $5.144 billion. That's more than the 0.7% increase in the House spending bill but a far cry from the 5.3% boost that the White House has requested. Nevertheless, Alexander said the budget would put the United States on the path to doubling spending on basic energy research—presumably meaning the DOE science program minus ITER, which could cost the United States a total of $4 billion or more. "Doubling basic energy research at the Department of Energy is one of the most important things we can do to unleash our free-enterprise system to provide cheap, clean, reliable energy," he said.

The bill would also boost the budget of DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) by 3.9% to $291 million, far short of the 16% increase requested by the White House, and above the flat budget of $280 million in the House bill. ARPA-E's role is to quickly transform the most promising ideas from basic research into budding technologies.

Other details of the bill should be presented Thursday, when it is scheduled to go before the full Senate Appropriations Committee.

The White House has already said it would recommend that the president veto the House version of the energy spending bill.