EU nuclear fusion project ITER should be abandoned because it is set to be built in an earthquake zone, like the stricken Fukushima plant in Japan, MEPs will argue today (20 April) as last-chance proposals for the project to pay off a €1.3 billion funding shortfall are tabled for discussion.
Last year, a European Commission compromise suggested that a third of the ITER shortfall should come from the budget for the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), with the remainder coming from the EU's unspent budget funds.
But the Parliament refused to sign off on the deal, with Green MEPs opposing the technology in principle and other members claiming they had insufficient powers to scrutinise the project.
Under new shortfall payment plans released today with the Commission's 2012 budget proposals – substantially the same as last year's compromise agreement – only unspent funds from the current year will now be available.
Commission officials are concerned that such funds will be harder to tap into this year, since it is the last year of the current budgetary cycle. The shortfall is needed to pay for construction work on the fusion chamber to begin in France. But the Parliament is gearing up for another battle over the money.
South of France: Earthquake zone!
The energy adviser to the Greens/European Free Alliance, Michel Raquet, also questioned the location of the project.
"If you look at the Fukushima catastrophe, it happened as a result of the nuclear reactor being built in a seismic zone. Cadarache is also a seismic area and we [the party] have to compare what is comparable."
Swedish MEP Göran Färm, budget spokesman for the Socialists & Democrats group in the European Parliament, said that his group was not against the project as such, but "we are not in favour of the current Commission solution on the table, meaning that the EU should partly use appropriations allocated to the FP7 to finance ITER," he said.
Commission officials said that there could be no comparison between Fukushima and ITER.
"There is no link between [nuclear] fission and fusion other than a reaction of particles […] The fusion chamber is entirely different [from a nuclear reactor] and would turn itself off automatically if there were any problem," a spokesperson said.
ITER insists: No danger!
"Many incidental and accidental scenarios have been analysed for ITER, in particular the combination of an earthquake and external flooding […] it was concluded that no accident scenario at ITER would result in counter measures for the surrounding populations," said ITER spokesman Michel Claessens.
Delaying the construction timeline for ITER would allow the EU to spread its costs over a long period but would cause friction with other ITER partners such as China, Japan and the US.
A US source close to the project told EURACTIV on condition of anonymity that "it will be a serious concern if they [the Commission] were unable to come up to their commitments". He said that the Commission "understands what is at stake," warning that "scepticism about the project would return quickly in the US" if no payment were agreed.
The European Parliament's budget committee will visit Cadarache on a fact-finding mission from 16-18 May, which will be a critical showcase for the project as the shortfall debate gets underway.