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Commission puts ITER funding in spotlight

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The European Commission on 5 May adopted a communication justifying the creation of a sustainable financial framework for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). EU Member States should provide financial support to the facility, whose expenditure is EUR 4.5 billion more than the initial EUR 2.7 billion planned, the European Commission said.

In a memo, the Commission explained that the financial support earmarked by Member States for the project's lifespan plus a mechanism for managing any additional overruns should be agreed, subject to an overall cap.

A breakdown shows that some EUR 1.4 billion is needed to meet the estimated cost increases in the European Atomic Energy (Euratom) Community contribution to ITER in 2012 and 2013. Two ways to boost this funding are to secure more money from the Member States or to raise the ceiling in the EU budget.

International in scope, the ITER project brings together experts from across the EU, China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the US. ITER is an experimental reactor that will generate energy by fusion, just like the Sun and the stars.

Fusion energy is generated when multiple atoms having the same charge join forces to create a heavier nucleus. Tests performed in the past have yielded solid results, showing that this process can be replicated on Earth. ITER's main objective is to demonstrate both the scientific and technological feasibility of using fusion as a key energy source on a larger scale.

Under the international agreement signed between the ITER partners in 2006 and implemented in 2007, the project has a duration of 35 years: 10 years for construction, 20 years for operation, and 5 years for deactivation of the ITER facilities.

'The launch of the ITER project marked an important milestone in the development of worldwide big science collaboration,' the European Commission stated. 'For Europe the project is emblematic of the EU's capacity to take a leading role at the global level in science and technology. The ITER organisation presents a possible model for future large-scale international collaborative infrastructure projects. Implementation of ITER is therefore a test case for future EU-international scientific collaboration on large-scale projects.'

The ITER partners argue that the results of this project could bolster the energy sector considerably by offering power that is cheaper and safer, as well as being limitless and free of carbon dioxide (CO2). In terms of safety in particular, the potential for power stations to have meltdowns or 'runaway reactions' is very low.

Once it is up and running, the Cadarache, France-based ITER reactor will have a generating fusion power capacity of 500 million watts and will form the basis for a future demonstration power plant, called DEMO. The final step of the project will lead to the commercialisation of fusion power. The European Commission has pointed out that some 75% of the overall European contribution to ITER will lead to contracts with high-tech industries in Europe.

The EU has said the project's success should come with reasonable financial and technical risks, as well as costs that do not burn huge holes in Europe's pockets.

On the whole, the EU targets 'a Europe with a thriving and sustainable economy, with world leadership in a diverse portfolio of clean, efficient and low-carbon energy technologies as a motor for prosperity and a key contributor to growth and jobs.' This vision is outlined in the Strategic Energy Technology (SET) Plan, which seeks the 'complete construction of the ITER fusion facility' and to 'ensure early industry participation in the preparation of demonstration actions'.

The ITER partners should now agree on the project's 'Baseline': the specifications and timetable for the construction of the fusion reactor, and the cost. The European Commission noted that the Baseline should be agreed at the forthcoming meeting of the ITER Council, due to take place in mid June of this year.

ITER & Fusion Research - update briefing
ITER & Fusion Research - ITER status and possible 
way forward - Communication

Source: Community R&D Information Service (CORDIS)

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