The ITER construction site

The ITER project under construction in southern France.Credit: ITER Organization/EJF Riche

The United States should continue its participation in the international fusion-power project ITER while expanding its domestic research and development efforts in the field, according to a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

The report, released on 13 December, says that the United States benefits from research and development at ITER in St-Paul-lez-Durance, France, while paying only a fraction of the bill. The troubled multibillion-euro project has faced scepticism from members of the US Congress, but the United States has continued to contribute to the project. The country’s current budget includes US$132 million for ITER, an increase of $10 million from the previous year.

To capitalize on that investment — and avoid being overtaken by other countries — the United States must also expand its domestic efforts to advance fusion energy, the report says. The academies recommend that the country increase its spending on fusion research by nearly $200 million annually for the next several decades to maintain its partnership in ITER and establish a national programme to build its own pilot plant.

Martin Greenwald, deputy director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Plasma Science and Fusion Center in Cambridge, says the report sends the right message, but setting a long-term vision isn’t enough.

“We need an operational plan,” Greenwald says. “Instead of arguing over what we might do in 20 or 30 years, let’s focus on what we will do in 5 years.”