Leading US fusion researchers have recommended that the US should start negotiations to rejoin ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor project, with the intention of re-entering the project within two years. The US was a founder member of the project, along with Europe, Japan and Russia, but pulled out in 1998 when the huge cost of the scheme, $10 billion, became apparent.. Now there are indications that the US government, both the White House and Congress, have regained their interest following the creation of a new reactor design by the existing partners. Crucially the new design, though less ambitious, is, at an estimated $5 bn, only half the price.

Long standing fusion research during the JET project has achieved MW power levels at near-unity energy gain under stable conditions lasting a few seconds without external cooling. ITER is the next stage – a much bigger project to demonstrate long term (30 minutes) stability at 100s of MW energy levels and supra-unity energy surplus with an external cooling system to derive the heat energy. There are four contending sites for the new project, two in Europe, one in Japan and one in Canada, a new partner in the project.

The group of 45 leading plasma-physics researchers, who met in Austin, Texas during August, make up a panel of the Department of Energy’s Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee. If their conclusions are endorsed by FESAC,which is almost certain, and approved by the government then the US would very soon after start negotiating with the ITER partners its terms of entry.