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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs > Releases > Fact Sheets > 2003  
Fact Sheet
Office of Fusion Energy Sciences, Office of Science
Washington, DC
October 28, 2003

The International Fusion Project (ITER)


On January 30, 2003, President Bush announced that the U.S. would join ongoing multilateral ITER discussions starting with the 8th Negotiators� Meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, on February 18-19, 2003. A formal negotiating mandate was approved on June 11 with which the U.S. then participated in the initial high-level negotiations on June 19, 2003 where cost sharing was first addressed. A U.S. delegation will attend the 9th Negotiators� Meeting that will be held in Beijing, China, in early November 2003.

ITER is an ambitious international scientific construction project aimed at harnessing the promise of fusion energy by taking the next major step in international fusion research whose objective is to provide direct scientific and engineering experience with burning plasma, i.e., a fuel burning device, in the period 2014-2034; construction would begin in 2006 and conclude with commissioning activities in 2013. The results of the ITER work should advance the science of fusion physics greatly as well as advance the effort to produce clean, safe, renewable, economical, and commercially available fusion energy in the middle of this century. The key advantages of fusion power would be an abundant fuel supply and the absence of greenhouse gas emissions.

Background leading to this Presidential Decision

ITER began most directly at the 1985 U.S.-U.S.S.R. Geneva Summit at which time General Secretary Gorbachev and President Reagan reached agreement on a number of topics, mostly arms control, but including one on a future collaborative fusion energy producing research facility that came to be known as the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor and now simply as ITER. The role of ITER in the world�s fusion energy science and development programs would be to address the principal remaining physics question, namely, the understanding, control and predictability of a burning plasma (the fusion �fuel�) and then to address the necessary associated technologies as well. ITER would be the first burning plasma physics device and is expected to produce fusion power at 500 MW and the burn pulse would be eight minutes to one hour. The U.S. fusion community is supporting this effort through a study of both the possible contributions to the project that would be of high research value and the critical management and procurement systems approaches.

Following a 3-year joint Conceptual Design Activities phase under the auspices of the IAEA, the U.S., the USSR (later, the Russian Federation), the European Community (later, the European Union) and Japan joined together as equals in a six-year quadripartite international agreement to carry out the succeeding Engineering Design Activities (EDA) for ITER. Substantial supporting research and development as well as design were done and the output was a well supported design for an ITER facility to be built internationally. As this work was proceeding, the U.S. side made clear its perception that this approach was too costly, no matter what the technical achievement was to have been. The U.S. urged that efforts be made to reduce the detailed technical objectives to reduce the facility�s size, mass and, therefore, cost as well as to incorporate more advanced physics understanding into the design.

In 1998, the 6-year agreement to conduct the EDA and supporting research and development for an experimental research reactor (ITER) among the U.S., Japan, Russia, and the European Union had come to an end; the U.S. Congress directed the Department of Energy (DOE) not to sign the 3-year agreement extension over concerns that appeared focused on the cost, technical basis, and lack of a site.

In the next few years, the ITER Parties continued their efforts and by 2002, it was clear that the three concerns noted above had been addressed successfully. The cost had been cut in half, the technical issues resolved and, most visibly, four excellent sites had been placed on the negotiating �table� by Canada and then the European Union and Japan.

In the same period, the U.S. fusion community worked hard to build a consensus that addressing burning plasma physics was the appropriate next step for the U.S. fusion program and that joining the ITER negotiations, while maintaining a U.S. domestic fall-back position, was essential. This consensus, built through two summer studies and many advisory committee actions, was validated by a National Academy of Sciences review. In parallel, a DOE review of the international ITER value estimate was conducted with a very positive judgment made on the high quality of the design work and estimate.

In addition to these ITER-specific advances, there was recognition at high level that the fusion energy sciences program had made significant strides in the past decade. These strides were in the development of its predictive capability based on detailed measurements and validated, sophisticated computer modeling, thereby presenting a new, fully scientific approach to fusion research.

As a result of both sets of advances, the U.S. decided to join the ITER negotiations.

Next Steps to Follow Through on the Presidential Decision

The current negotiating parties are Canada, China, European Union (EU), Japan, Korea, Russian Federation, and the U.S. The ongoing negotiations are addressing cost sharing, site selection, procurement allocation, key management personnel and the many other issues required to establish an international organization to build, operate and deactivate the ITER facility. At present, Japan has a site in Rokkasho on the table while the EU is still in the process of determining which of its two sites would become the EU candidate site. Canada, which had placed its site, at Clarington, on the table initially enabling the start of negotiations, is still determining whether to place a financially robust site offer on the table. All sites that have been considered in the site evaluation process have been judged fully adequate to host ITER.

In parallel with the negotiations on site selection and cost sharing, negotiators are preparing an agreement text dealing with all the issues, including procurement systems, management approaches and structures, the many legal issues of privileges and immunities, intellectual property rights, liabilities, etc. It is intended that the highest level negotiations dealing with the site, the cost sharing and the key procurement and personnel issues would come to a single common position by the end of 2003.

All of the parties are pleased that there has been substantial progress made for ITER implementation. The ongoing ITER project preparatory activities, called the ITER Transitional Arrangements, which came into force in January 2003, cover both technical and managerial preparations for proceeding with the ITER facility once agreement on key issues is reached. Additionally, the parties� experts participate in various ITER working groups in support of the negotiations.

Information on the ITER project can be found at the web site

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