Fire to be extinguished?

18 August 2004

The US Department of Energy (DoE) is set to cancel work on its six-year-old Fire (fusion ignition research experiment), the European Commission is predicting.

The DoE research directorate was convinced by Anne Davies, DoE fusion energy office director, who told New Scientist magazine that Fire's copper magnets were "dead end" technology compared to Iter's superconducting magnet solution.

Fire's design was developed in 1999 as a homegrown alternative to Iter before the USA withdrew from the international project. Its current budget of $2 million per year is set to end in September but the decision of whether to continue with Fire was meant to have been taken at the end of July based on the status of Iter, which has been the USA's top fusion priority since rejoining the Iter in 2003. The ongoing deadlock over siting Iter has made firm announcements impossible, but it is considered most unlikely that the USA would take on the $1 billion cost of constructing Fire alone, especially when the Iter project is going forward.

It has now taken the Iter parties over eight months to resolve the siting impasse, apparently caused by the high quality of both options. China, the European Union and Russia favour Cadarache in France while Japan, South Korea and the USA favour Rokkasho in Japan. Once a site is chosen the construction phase can begin.

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