Construction of contested fusion reactor to start in 2007

The EU and its 6 partner countries have given a formal go ahead for the construction of the world’s biggest experimental nuclear fusion reactor, ITER. Environmental NGOs fear the mammoth project will swallow financing from renewables R&D.

The seven partners committed to the building of ITER, the EU, China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States, signed the final ITER agreement on 24 May 2006, after years of planning, design, negotiations and some dispute over the reactor’s host country.

“This is a truly crucial moment […] for global scientific co-operation in general,” said Science and Research Commissioner Janez Poto?nik, highlighting the unprecedented scale of international co-operation on this research project. 

He referred to ITER as a new model for large-scale global scientific and technical cooperation and said that “we are sending an important message about seeing the value in working together to address our common challenges”.

Environmental groups oppose ITER project saying it is a waste of money and will not generate jobs. 

"In signing this agreement today, the European Commission has got its priorities wrong. Investment in energy efficiency and renewables is the only reliable way to guarantee energy security. Giving billions of Euros to a single nuclear project that is so far from reality is ill judged and irresponsible," said Silva Hermann from Friends of the Earth Europe

The Greens in the European Parliament have criticised the FP7 funds allocation of nuclear bias. They say that the ITER project is being alloted too much money, at the expense of renewables research.

Supporters of nuclear fusion claim that if it succeeds, the ITER project will result in a cost effective and potentially inexhaustible supply of clean energy that will eventually replace oil and gas altogether. Fusion energy is expected to produce zero greenhous gas emissions and long-lasting radio-active waste. Officials from the consortium predict that the project will create approximately 10 000 jobs.

The International Thermo Nuclear Energy Reactor (ITER) is an international collaborative research project aiming to build the world's biggest experimental nuclear reactor to produce energy the way the stars do it, by fusion.

ITER is set to become the world's most expensive science experiment. Its construction is estimated to cost around 4.6 billion euro and the operating costs over its 20 years lifetime about the same, bringing the total estimated cost of ITER during 30 years to 10 billion euro.

The EU will contribute up to about 50% of the construction costs, as the site wil be built in Cadarache, France, and the other countries will each contribute up to 10%. 

To know more about the history of ITER, since 1985, consult Wikipedia site on ITER.

  • All parties are expected to confirm the adoption of the agreement according to their national laws and practice by the end of 2006. 
  • As to the EU, the Council will adopt a decision endorsing the agreement. 
  • Actual construction of the ITER site is set to start in 2007 and will take around 10 years. The first plasma operation is expected in 2016.
  • The ITER is expected to be operational for 20 years.

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