Commission gives €1.4bn to ITER nuclear fusion project


With EU governments unwilling to fill the funding gaps in the multi-billion international nuclear fusion research project ITER, the European Commission is proposing to put an extra 1.4 billion euro on the table to honour the bloc's international commitment.  

The Commission adopted this week (20 July) a proposal for the short-term funding needs to build the ITER fusion demonstration reactor.

To ensure European financing for the project in 2012-2013, the Commission suggests finding €1.4 billion of unused funding from the EU budget (€940 million) and by redeployment of €460 million from the EU's 7th Framework Programme for Research (FP7).

EU research ministers mandated the Commission to table the proposals following unsuccessful negotiations earlier this spring to agree on how to respond to the ambitious project's spiralling costs (EURACTIV 10/06/10).

Europe's bill for the project has almost trebled. Initially estimated at €2.7 billion, the bloc's share is now projected to be €6.6 billion until 2020, with France liable for a further €1.3 billion in its capacity as host country for the plant.

EU Budget Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski and Research Commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn stressed that "ITER can provide a safe, clean and inexhaustible source of energy for the future".

This makes the project priceless, they argued, "especially when you consider that the EU had a trade deficit in energy of nearly €400 billion in 2008".

The Commission proposal stresses that the EU executive "has made clear its view that the EU budget cannot be asked to continue to deal with cost overruns". It underlines that for the period after 2013 the EU budget will need to have a fixed, annual contribution to the costs of ITER so that "any future cost overruns will not fall on the EU budget".

The European Parliament and the 27 EU member states in the Council of Ministers will now both have to agree on the proposal, which amends the EU's current long term budget for 2007-2013.

The ITER project is an experimental thermonuclear reactor that seeks to replicate the processes at the core of stars and the sun.

Fusion research is touted by its proponents as a potential source of cheap, abundant and carbon-free fuel. However, sceptics say fusion has been a pipedream for decades and there remains scant evidence that it will yield practical results. There are also question marks over safety, according to environmentalists, who want the funding diverted to renewable energy research.

45% of the funding for the project comes from Europe, with a sizeable contribution from France, which won the right to host the project in Cadarache. The remainder of the money is provided by the scheme's other members. The initiative began as a US-Russian project in the 1980s but now includes the EU, China, India, Japan and South Korea.

In 2001, total construction costs were estimated at around €5.9 billion and construction was expected to be completed over a ten-year period. However, this has almost tripled to €16 billion, with critics claiming that the final bill could be even higher.

Construction is yet to begin.

  • 27-28 July 2010: Extraordinary ITER Council meeting scheduled in Cadarache to approve the Commission proposal.
  • 2012: Construction of ITER ischeduled to begin.

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