French site for world's first fusion energy plant
The Daily Telegraph
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
29 June 2005
An experimental nuclear fusion reactor that harnesses the power source of the Sun was given the go ahead yesterday, ending a wrangle over who would benefit from £6 billion and some 10,000 new jobs that will be needed to build the pioneering project.
The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) aims to generate 10 times more fusion energy than the power put in and marks the last milestone before the construction of a true prototype fusion reactor.
Eventually, scientists hope that the ability to create a star on Earth will offer a near-limitless supply of energy that is safer and cleaner than conventional nuclear power, and with no greenhouse gas emissions.
A key political hurdle for the project, which aims to go into action around 2016, was cleared yesterday when an agreement was reached by the European Union, the United States, Russia, Japan, South Korea and China to site it in Cadarache, southern France, after Japan withdrew its rival bid.
The Japanese site, Rokkasho-mura, had been supported by Washington and Seoul, while Cadarache, one of the largest civil nuclear research centres in Europe, was favoured by Moscow and Beijing.
In return Europe must now cover half the cost of the project and 10 per cent of that must be spent in Japan, where the project's main research facility will be based, and Japanese nationals will take 20 per cent of the jobs.
French President Jacques Chirac said he was "delighted" by the decision, and Janez Potocnik, the European Union's Science and Research Commissioner, said: "We are making scientific history."
Construction is expected to start next year, once all parties have signed an implementation agreement. "I give it a 50:50 chance of success but the engineering is very difficult," said Prof Ian Fells, chairman of the New and Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth. "If we can really make this work there will be enough electricity to last the world for the next 1,000 to 2,000 years."
Instead of splitting the atom, the principle behind current nuclear plants, the project seeks to harness nuclear fusion energy, released when light atoms fuse together, the process that powers stars and hydrogen bombs.
The fusion would take place in a reactor fuelled by two isotopes of hydrogen -- deuterium and tritium -- with helium as the waste product in addition to the energy. Fuel consumption of a fusion power station will be extremely low and, if the experimental machine is successful, a demo fusion power plant would be built in the mid-2030s, with the first commercial fusion plant created mid-century.
But Masatoshi Koshiba, a Japanese scientist and Nobel prize winner, said: "Fusion has not been proven to be safe, and it is too costly." Greenpeace, the environmental campaign group, said any results would not be for 50 years. "At a time when it is universally recognised that we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, we consider it ridiculous to use resources and billions of euros on this project," it said.