Mason: ITER funding is biggest uncertainty

IMG_4819ORNL Director Thom Mason has a sip of coffee before welcoming visitors at Thursday’s Workshop on Molten Salt Reactor Technologies.

I talked a couple of times Thursday with Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thom Mason about current and future issues, and he said the biggest uncertainty in Fiscal Year 2016 may be funding for U.S. involvement in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor — which is based at ORNL.

Federal funding is currently controlled by a continuing budget resolution that’s in effect until Dec. 11, and so it’s not clear what may happen next — whether there’ll be an Omnibus budget that collects a baker’s dozen of appropriations into one bill; a Continuing Resolution (CR) that extends for the rest of the FY; whether another round of Sequestration enforcement will kick in.

Mason noted that the lab would obviously prefer there be an actual budget, because an extended Continuing Resolution would mean no new starts, no terminations, etc.

If it comes down to budget negotiations between the House and the Senate, the biggest difference — and the biggest concern — is funding for ITER. Mason noted that the earlier House mark for Energy & Water supported the President’s budget recommendation for ITER at about $150 million. The Senate mark for ITER was zero, he said.

And, Mason emphasized, that’s quite a big difference.

On other programs, there is not so much contentiousness, the ORNL director said, with perhaps the Senate marks being a little more favorable for Oak Ridge than those in the House. That possibly puts the lab in “reasonably good shape,” meaning “flattish,” Mason said, while adding the usual caveats whenever one talks about budget possibilities.

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About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.