Will the U.S. pull out of ITER? Alexander says he’s waiting to hear from Moniz

monizap.jpgAfter marking up the FY 2017 energy and water appropriations bill,  U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., fielded questions from reporters in a Wednesday afternoon telephone hookup.

I asked Alexander about the decision to eliminate funding for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, which he said would save about $125 million in 2017, and whether he favored the United States pulling out as a partner in the huge international fusion project. The other partners are China, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea and Russia.

Alexander demurred and said he was waiting on a report from Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

“On May 2, Secretary Moniz will provide his recommendations to us on what the United States should do,” he said. “We’ve been hamstrung a little bit over the past couple of years because Secretary Moniz was recused from dealing with it his first two years (because of the nuclear physicist’s previous work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology).”

The senator said, “Ironically, because he knew so much about it, he wasn’t able to tell us what he thought.”

Alexander said he was looking forward to the May 2 meeting with Moniz to help decide “whether we’re going to permanently withdraw or proceed in some other way.”

Just looking at the competition for funding for other priorities, Alexander said the subcommittee couldn’t justify the annual funding of $125 million for ITER.

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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.