ITER process making progress

Site applications from Spain and Japan / extended mandate of the European delegation / new vibes from the USA

June 05, 2002
With Canada already having submitted an offer of a site for the planned ITER international experimental fusion reactor, Japan has now also made an official application:At the end of May 2002 the Japanese Council for Science and Technology Policy, under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Koizumi, specified the city of Rokkasho in the north of Japan’s main island, Honshu, as its proposed site. At a meeting of the international ITER negotiation group in Cadarache, France, on 4 June the offer from Japan was officially forwarded to the ITER partners.

As a European site for ITER Spanish Research Minister Anna Birulés proposed Vandellòs near Barcelona in a letter of 17 April to European Research Commissioner Phillipe Busquin. France had already stated interest the previous year in offering Cadarache in the south of France as a site and reiterated this in a letter to Busquin in early May 2002.

The ITER experimental reactor is the next major step in international fusion research, which aims at developing a power plant that – like the sun – will produce energy from fusion of atomic nuclei. To ignite the fusion fire the fuel - a deuterium-tritium plasma - has to be confined in magnetic fields and heated to very high temperatures. The objective of ITER is to demonstrate the physical and technical feasibility of fusion. At a fusion power of 500 megawatts the device is intended to produce for the first time a burning plasma supplying energy. The final construction plans for ITER, including an estimate of the investment costs (about four billion euros), were completed in July 2001; essential components of the device have already been built as prototypes and tested.

Formal negotiations of the international partners - Canada, Europe, Japan, and the Russian Federation - on possible realisation of ITER were initiated in November last year. On 27 May 2002 the European Council of Ministers authorised the European Commission in an amendment to the previous directive to take the European site proposals into consideration and negotiate with the partners on sharing the costs. The aim is an agreement specifying the legal entity of the international ITER project, its organisation, the site, personnel, and distribution of the costs and manufacturing contracts among the partners. The agreement, scheduled for towards the end of the year, is then to be submitted to the governments of the partners.

ITER has been under preparation since 1988 as an international cooperation of European, Japanese, Russian, and US fusion research scientists. In 1997 the USA backed out of the collaboration - but possibly only temporarily: In April 2002 Ray Orbach, head of the Office of Science in the Department of Energy, announced a decision in the next few months whether the USA might rejoin the ITER project. This was confirmed by Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham at the G8 Economic Summit in Detroit on 2 May: "We are now engaged in serious consultation here in the United States and around the world on how best to pursue a fusion program. President Bush is particularly interested in the potential of the international effort known as ITER and has asked us to seriously consider American participation".

Isabella Milch

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