“If we don’t provide the funding that we said we would, it could cost the taxpayers $750 million. Not including this funding to begin with is an embarrassing mistake by Congress. We’re at a time when we are concerned about climate change and clean air, but we are not doing what we agreed to do to help with this problem.” –Lamar Alexander
U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said today at a meeting of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations that not providing full funding for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) could result in a $750 million penalty for U.S. taxpayers.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is the lead national laboratory coordinating U.S. participation in the ITER Project, which is an important effort to develop fusion energy as a possible new clean source of electricity, as well as a long-term symbol of international science collaboration.
“If we don’t provide the funding that we said we would, it could cost the taxpayers $750 million,” Alexander told Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. “Not including this funding to begin with is an embarrassing mistake by Congress. We’re at a time when we are concerned about climate change and clean air, but we are not doing what we agreed to do to help with this problem. The deal we made said that if we don’t put in our $160 million, we may be charged $750 million. Congress should fund our commitment to the ITER project and be a leader in encouraging such endeavors rather than undermining them. Oak Ridge is the center of this activity in the United States, but it’s not just important to Oak Ridge and East Tennessee – it’s important to the whole country and the rest of the world.”
The U.S. signed an ITER agreement with its partners – the European Union, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Russia – committing to provide funding for people and equipment for the project. In addition to endangering Oak Ridge’s lead role on the project, failure to contribute U.S. funds by the end of Fiscal Year 2008 could “call into question our commitment to our other international obligations,” according to a response from the U.S. State Department to a February letter from Senators Alexander and Bob Corker (R-TN) to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In addition, it could trigger a default clause in the ITER agreement, costing American taxpayers over $750 million.
Congress did not include the requested funding in the Omnibus Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2008 that was signed into law in December. In March, Alexander and Corker joined a bipartisan group of senators in writing to the chairman and senior Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee asking them to consider emergency funding to help keep the U.S. from reneging on its commitments to the ITER Project.