The European Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee has recommended postponing the granting of the 2014 budget discharge of Fusion for Energy (F4E), the EU agency providing the European contribution to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter) project, F4E said.
The proposed postponement would allow for more information to become available on the revised schedule and cost estimate of the Iter project. The total cost of the project has been estimated at €15bn (about $16bn).
F4E said the additional information is expected to be decided by the seven Iter parties – Europe, the US, Russia, Japan, China, South Korea and India – in June 2016.
The European Parliament has the final say on approving the way EU bodies spend money that comes from the EU budget. In the annual “discharge” procedure, it verifies whether EU funds were spent according to the rules. It may grant, postpone or refuse to grant a discharge, which is required for the formal closure of institutional accounts.
F4E said the committee, while recommending a postponement of the discharge, did not call into question the management of the EU funds by F4E. Marian-Jean Marinescu, rapporteur of the committee said: “This is a very important European project and has been making progress over the last period. We are waiting for the decision of the Iter Council regarding the future schedule, including activities and financing needs”.
F4E said Iter is a complex one-of-a-kind international project, which requires adjustments in terms of budget and planning, common to all such large-scale projects. All seven international Iter parties, and Europe in particular, are conscious of these challenges and have taken significant steps to dramatically improve the way the project is being managed, F4E said.
The final decision on the discharge is expected in October 2016 after an assessment of the decisions taken by the Iter parties on the schedule and cost of the project.
F4E said the postponement of the discharge on the 2014 accounts has no impact on its operations. F4E said it is continuing with the implementation of the procurement procedures as planned, and with the signature of contracts and payments.
In November 2015 the Iter Council said the costs of the work involved with an updated long-term schedule and budget would be the subject of an independent review.
The Council, the governing body of the Iter Organisation, did not give details of the updated schedule or budget.
Bernard Bigot, director-general of the Iter Organisation, said the independent review would see if there are areas that can be improved or accelerated.
At a meeting in November 2015 the Council approved a schedule and milestones covering 2016 and 2017, a reallocation of existing resources to meet these milestones, and the hiring of nearly 150 additional staff.
Media reports said operation of Iter had been postponed until 2025 from around 2020.
Iter is intended to demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion power.