Trump budget cuts threaten to seriously undermine nuclear fusion project

7 Dec 2017

US president Donald Trump. Image: JStone/Shutterstock

An international attempt to build a working test nuclear fusion reactor is under threat from budget cuts made by US president Donald Trump.

It was supposed to be a major milestone for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project as a nuclear fusion reactor experiment reached its midway point of construction but now, financial worries threaten to delay it.

ITER is a project being undertaken by Europe, the US, China, India, Japan, Russia and South Korea to create a working nuclear fusion reactor.

The technology in its current state remains very experimental but, if achieved, could replicate the energy production of the sun on a much, much smaller scale, offering the potential for near-limitless, cheap, clean energy.

While ‘first plasma’ is scheduled to take place in 2025, Reuters is reporting that the 10-year-old project is facing potentially damaging delays as the US government aims to cut its financial contribution by almost half.

So far, the US has contributed around $1bn to the project and was scheduled to contribute another $1.5bn for the next seven years. In 2018, however, it is expected to reduce its contribution from $120m to $63m, with US president Donald Trump reportedly receiving a letter from his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron asking the former to reconsider.

‘Impact on the entire project’

The ITER’s director general, Bernard Bigot, has been involved in discussions with the US administration but has warned of serious disruption should the country fail to keep up with its promises.

“If we do not respect deadlines in the beginning, we cannot respect them in the end,” Bigot said.

“If the US does not provide the necessary funds in 2018, then there will be an impact on the entire project.”

Trump’s involvement in ITER has already had serious consequences for one of the hopeful participants in the project, Iran.

The Islamic republic had been hopeful that it could sign a collaboration deal with the current partners in the ITER project, but Trump’s tense relations with the country saw his government block the move.

US president Donald Trump. Image: JStone/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic