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In the May issue of Physics Today, an article signed by David Kramer comments on the recent change at the head of the ITER project, the multi-billion nuclear fusion experiment which is under construction in south France. The former director general, Osamu Motojima, welcomed the new director, Bernard Bigot. Bigot is rather well-known in the fusion community, being a recognized physicist and having served since 2008 as the France representative to the ITER organization. Bigot will have to tackle a long-standing issue of the ITER management, i.e. to define a new (and possible, definitive) baseline cost and schedule.
This increase in ITER budget, partly due to the increase of costs of labour and raw materials, and partly to the changes in design brought about by the advances in fusion science, are particularly indigestible to policymakers in the US. Since last summer, a push-and-pull action between the US Congress (adverse to the US participation in ITER) and the Obama administration (which is in favor to that) is taking place. Last summer, a Senate appropriations subcommittee ordered US withdrawal from ITER. The measure was deleted by the Obama administration. This year, backers of the provision are trying to repropose it in the FY 2016 funding bill. Interestingly enough for us Europeans, the principal opponent is not from GOP, but from Democrats: her name is Dianne Fenstein, and she is one of the two Senators elected in California. In an interview she says it is not worth putting so much money in a project "we may never see benefits from".