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Macron Asked Trump To Finance International ITER Fusion Research Program

PARIS, Dec. 29, 2017 (Nouvelle Solidarité)—Ten years ago, seven partners—Europe, the United States, China, India, Japan, Russia, and South Korea—started the construction of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), an international project to build a giant nuclear fusion reactor in southern France. In 2017, the ITER Organization celebrated its tenth anniversary, and the project passed the halfway mark on the road to First Plasma. All the milestones set by the ITER Council were met, and—as preparation for machine assembly began—the cryoplant, the twin Magnet Power Conversion buildings, and the cooling tower zone received their first equipment.

Behind the lit offices of the ITER headquarters, with desks for 800 people, the scientific installation is rising. In the Poloidal Field Coil Winding Facility, ITER’s partners began manufacturing poloidal field coil no. 5 (17 meters in diameter). Nearby in the Cryostat Workshop, Indian contractors started work on a second cryostat section—the lower cylinder—and continued to advance welding and non-destructive examination testing of the cryostat base. In factories on three continents, the ITER Members continued to manufacture strategic ITER components that were delivered as planned to the ITER site.

However, ITER is facing delays if the U.S. administration does not reconsider budget cuts. ITER Director-General Bernard Bigot, in Washington for talks with the U.S. administration earlier this month, said the U.S. 2017 contribution had been cut from a planned $105 million to $50 million and its 2018 contribution from a planned $120 million to $63 million. "If we do not respect deadlines in the beginning, we cannot respect them in the end," Bigot told Reuters by telephone. The project is now halfway towards the first test of its super-heated plasma by 2025 and first full-power fusion by 2035. Earlier this year, ITER’s total budget was revised upwards from EU18-22 billion ($21-26 billion), with a U.S. share of 9%.

Bigot said that following a letter from French President Emmanuel Macron to President Donald Trump in August, Trump had asked his administration to reconsider the issue. "We hope for a decision this weekend or this week," he said. "If the U.S. does not provide the necessary funds in 2018, then there will be an impact on the entire project."

ITER member countries finance the manufacturing of ITER components via their own national companies. The parts are then shipped to France and assembled on ITER’s Cadarache, southern France site. Bigot said that after Trump cut the U.S. energy department’s budget, the department reduced funding for the U.S. companies making ITER components. ITER’s main U.S. supplier is California-based General Atomics, which is building its central solenoid, an 18-meter tall pillar-like magnet that will be one of the first components to be installed by 2020.

The uncertain participation of the U.S. also encouraged China and France to create a new Sino-French Fusion Energy Center (SIFFER), allowing intensifying and expanding bilateral fusion energy cooperation.