Miami DebateABJNuclear Fusion
1AC Inherency (1/1)Contention I is InherencyThe federal government has recently cut US support for ITER, an international researchprogram for nuclear fusion energy, in favor of research on renewable energies that couldprovide short-term benefit. These cuts preclude R&D funding for US corporations; theyare likely to be permanent and derail international research efforts
, Contributing editor, IEEE Spectrum, Author, “The Perfect Energy: From Earth,Wind or Fire?” in Fueling the Future (Anansi Press, 2003) and Electricity & Magnetism(Twenty-First Century Books, 2007), “Does Fusion Have a Future?” IEEE Spectrum,http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/feb08/5980, 2/
The 2004 report “Burning Plasma: Bringing a Star to Earth,” from the U.S. National Research Council, soldWashington on the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor
(ITER), a massive R&D project that proponents predict will be the breakthrough project for fusion energy. In its fiscal 2008 budget, however,Congress drove the United States’ role in ITER right into the ground, slashing US $160 million promisedfor this year to $10.7 million.
U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) officials are expected to provide an update on how theUnited States plans to work around the budget shortfall at a meeting of the agency’s Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committeenext Tuesday. But the United States’ paltry participation has some wondering if fusion research, considered since the 1960s oneof the great long shots for a sustainable and relatively clean energy supply, has run out of time.
ITER, set to beginconstruction in Cadarache, near Marseilles in southern France, aspires to produce the first self-sustainingfusion reaction.
Like most fusion experiments to date, ITER will use formidable electric currents and magnetic fields toinduce fusion in isotopes of hydrogen (deuterium and tritium) and to contain the resulting burning plasma—akin to a tiny star andexceeding 100 million ˚C. But where existing fusion reactors have produced heat equivalent to just a few megawatts of power for fractions of a second, ITER should put out 500 megawatts—10 times as much as the external power delivered—for severalminutes.
Getting there requires a scale of investment that only international consortia can support
The 27-meter-high magnetic confinement chamber required will take a decade to build and cost an estimated $2.76 billion. Including design,administration, and 20 years of operation, the project’s total expenses will be nearly $15 billion. The European Union has agreed to cover half that cost, with the other half shared by the United States, China, India, Japan, Russia, and the Republic of Korea. U.S. support has waxed andwaned before. In 1998, Congress pulled the United States out of ITER, judging the design too pricey. ITER got Congress back on board in 2005with a redesign that cut the cost in half, only to see the United States trim the cap on its contribution for ITER the next year from $1.4 billion to$1.1 billion
This year’s budget cut will prevent the DOE from lining up
contractors for the design and
assembly of the hardware that it committed
to supply, which includes conductors for the magnets, a pellet injector to deliver solid deuterium fuel, and an exhaust system for tritium gas
The $10.7million provided by Congress will cover only U.S. personnel posted to ITER in France and a skeleton staff in theStates.
ITER supporters say the setback is temporary.
They note that congressional committees fully funded ITER indraft legislation last fall, only to see the funds shed in the course of a larger budget battle between President Bush and Congress.At the last minute, Congress slashed $22 billion to avoid a threatened veto, and ITER was an obvious target as a new andnondomestic project. “It’s just one of those things that happen because of this financial mess we’re in,” says Stephen Dean, president of Fusion Power Associates, a nonprofit research and educational outfit based in Gaithersburg, Md. Dean says thatslowdowns at ITER, as officials grapple with more than 200 proposed design changes, will blunt the effect of U.S. delays. “Theimpact is going to be relatively small, provided that it doesn’t happen again next year,” says Dean
But some observers sayit could happen again if the “financial mess” endures, because ITER—the core of the U.S. fusion program —appears to be low on Congress’s list of priorities
. James Decker, a principal with Alexandria, Va., lobbyingfirm Decker Garman Sullivan and former director of the DOE’s Office of Science, notes that
Congress instead provided extra funding for shorter-term energy solutions.
For example, Congress gave a 23 percent raise to theDOE’s energy R&D programs, covering such areas as carbon sequestration and solar energy.
If the United Statesdoes drop out of ITER, that could weaken support among other ITER players
Britain pulled its fundingfor another international R&D megaproject
, the $6.7 billion International Linear Collider,
after Congresseffectively froze U.S. participation
in the project. The International Linear Collider is the successor to the CERN(European Organization for Nuclear Research) Large Hadron Collider, which is to begin operations this year.
Proponents of renewable energy would shed no tears if ITER came apart
. Ed Lyman, a senior scientist at theUnion of Concerned Scientists, says governments today must determine if energy technologies—including fusion—are “going to be realistic large-scale energy sources on a timeframe needed to mitigate global warming.” Lyman says fusion, which evensupporters agree is still several decades from fruition, flunks that test and has no place in tight budgets: “
R&D resources justaren’t there to support projects that are so expensive and have shown so little potential for promise in thenear term.”