USA and China join ITER international cooperation

Negotiations with six parties on the ITER international experimental reactor

February 03, 2003

The USA are to participate in the negotiations on construction and operation of the ITER international experimental fusion reactor, as announced by Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham in Princeton on 30 January.

He rates the research device as an important element „to feed the energy needs of growing economies around the world“. The USA wants to contribute about 10 per cent of the total cost of the project – part of this by producing individual components of the device – and be accordingly involved in management and research.

In a recent letter to the ITER partners China also offered to cover about 10 per cent of the budget, as reported in „NATURE“ on 23. January 2003: „China intends to make a major contribution to the project in the form of material or funding“, stated China’s Minister of Science, Xu Gusnhua.

The ITER experimental reactor is the next major step in international fusion research, whose goal is to develop a power plant which, like the sun, will generate energy from fusion of atomic nuclei.

To ignite the fusion fire, the hydrogen plasma fuel has to be confined in magnetic fields and heated to very high temperatures. The purpose of ITER, which has been in preparation since 1988 as an international cooperation between European, Japanese, Russian, and US research scientists, is to demonstrate the physical and technical feasibility of fusion. With a fusion power of 500 megawatts, the device is to produce a burning, energy-supplying plasma for the first time. The construction cost is estimated at about four billion euros.

In 1998 the United States withdrew from the project. The final construction plans were completed by the other partners in July 2001; essential components of the device have been built as prototypes and tested. Sites for the device have been offered by France, Spain, Canada, and Japan. This decision of the USA to rejoin the international venture was prompted by several scientific expertises (see IPP Press Release 9/02) confirming ITER as the appropriate next step in fusion research.

The negotiations conducted since November 2001 by the international partners, Europe, Canada, Japan, and the Russian Federation, will now involve the USA and China as well. To be regulated are the legal entity of the international project, its organisation, the site, and the allocation of costs and production contracts among the partners. The appropriate agreement can possibly be drawn up this year already and submitted to the governments of the partners.

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