France Choosen As Site for Nuclear Reactor
MOSCOW - An international consortium chose France on Tuesday as the site for an experimental nuclear fusion reactor, a $13 billion project that developers hope will one day generate endless, cheap energy by reproducing the sun's power source and wean the world off fossil fuels.
France beat out Japan to host the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor project, which is also backed by the United States, China, the
European Union, Russia and
South Korea. Nuclear fusion produces no greenhouse gas emissions and only low levels of radioactive waste.
"This is a great success for France, for Europe and for all of the partners in the ITER," French
President Jacques Chirac said in a statement issued minutes after the announcement in Moscow.
"The international community will now be able to take on an unprecedented scientific and technological challenge, which opens great hopes for providing humanity with an energy that has no impact on the environment and is practically inexhaustible," he said.
Officials say with the site issue now resolved — it will be in Cadarache in the south of France — project participants will negotiate the construction details and sign a final agreement perhaps by the end of the year. Construction should be completed by about 2014. At stake are some 10,000 jobs.
Fusion, which powers the sun and stars, involves colliding atoms at extremely high temperatures and pressure inside a reactor. When the atoms fuse, they release heat that can be harnessed to generate electricity.
Also, while fossil fuels are expected to run short in about 50 years, the reactor would run on an isotope of hydrogen, a virtually boundless source of fuel that can be extracted from water.
"As a project of unprecedented complexity spanning more than a generation, ITER marks a major step forward international science cooperation," EU Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik said after the talks. "Now that we have reached consensus on the site for ITER, we will make all efforts to finalize the agreement on the project, so that construction can begin as soon as possible."
The six parties in the project's consortium had been divided over where to put the test reactor, and competition was intense. At stake are billions of dollars in research funding, construction and engineering contracts.
Japan, the United States and South Korea wanted the facility built at Rokkasho in northern Japan. Russia, China and the European Union wanted it at Cadarache.
The EU argued that Cadarache, one of the biggest civil nuclear research centers in Europe, has existing technical support facilities and expertise for the project, thus reducing the risks.
Japanese newspaper reports had said Tokyo was prepared to give up hosting the $13 billion ITER project in return for a bigger research and operations role in the project. The deal concluded Tuesday assured Tokyo of that role.
"Japan is happy and sad at the same time. We decided to overcome the sorrow and turn the sorrow into joy. Japan in the future will be ready to make contribution to the development of fusion energy," said Nariaki Nakayama, Japan's minister for education, science and technology.
The EU and Japan have reached an agreement on a broader cooperation in developing fusion energy to make it a commercially viable source of energy.
The EU also has agreed to transfer up to 10 percent of its procurement to Japan, so that both participate on similar terms in the high-tech components of the reactor. The EU will support a Japanese candidate for the post of the ITER director general and back the construction of a demonstration reactor in Japan in a later phase.
Nakayama said Tuesday that the project will allow Japan to "become a base of international research and development in the field of fusion energy."
Some scientists have warned that both sites are in seismically active zones and could be prone to earth tremors.
"Construction will finish approximately in 2014," said Raymond L. Orbach, the U.S.
Department of Energy's office of science director.
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