World's First Nuclear Fusion Reactor to be Built in France

MOSCOW, Russia, June 29, 2005 (ENS) - An experimental nuclear fusion reactor will be located in Cadarache, in southern France, ministers representing six governments announced here on Tuesday. The decision clears the way for the demonstration of the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion energy.

Energy produced by the fusion of atomic nucleii under high temperature and enormous pressure is the same energy that powers the Sun and stars, and also hydrogen bombs. To produced fusion temperatures above 100 million degrees Celsius must be generated and controlled. This is achieved by creating a magnetic cage with strong magnetic fields, which prevent the particles from escaping.


Plasma inside the experimental ITER Tore Supra at Cadarache, France. Its main feature is the superconducting magnets which enable generation of a permanent specialized magnetic field. (Photo courtesy CEA)
With fusion, there is no long-lasting radioactive waste to create a burden on future generations. The basic fuels - deuterium and lithium – and the reaction product - helium - are not radioactive. The intermediate fuel – tritium – is radioactive but decays quickly.

It differs from the nuclear power plants of today that run by fission, or splitting atoms, which produces large amounts of waste that remain radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years.

The fusion reactor, known as ITER, is the experimental step between today’s studies of plasma physics and tomorrow's fusion power plants that produce electricity and hydrogen. It is technically ready to start construction and the first plasma operation is expected in 2016. Scientists hope that by mid-century, an ITER reactor will be producing electricity.

ITER is an international project involving China, the European Union, Japan, South Korea, Russia, and the United States. The development is takingplace under the auspices of the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency.

At the Moscow meeting the six parties settled the outstanding issue of the site of ITER. The negotiations had been deadlocked since December 2003 on this issue of the site, preventing the parties making further progress in the technical negotiations relating to the project itself.


Representatives of ITER partners conclude the siting agreement with handshakes in Moscow on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy ITER)
There have been two competing sites to host the $5 billion test bed for harnessing nuclear fusion to generate electricity. In November 2003, the European Union selected Cadarache as its candidate site. Japan’s contender was in Rokkasho.

While the Japanese site was not selected, the EU and Japan have agreed to a privileged partnership in which both partners will be able to develop a leading role in taking fusion energy into the future. This partnership looks beyond the ITER project to put it in the context of a broader approach to fusion energy development.

ITER as a project is not enough to make fusion energy a commercially viable source of energy for the future. The broader approach will ensure other supporting research is carried out.

Under the agreement the EU will transfer up to 10 percent of its procurement to Japan, so that both countries participate on similar terms in the high technology components of the ITER device. Some of the ITER Headquarters functions could be situated in Japan.

s The EU will support a suitable Japanese candidate for the post of director-general of the ITER organization and will also support the right for Japan to have more staff in the organization than its proportionate share.

If there is an international agreement to undertake the later phase – construction of a demonstration reactor – the EU has agreed to support Japan as the site.

On his way home from Moscow today, Japanese Mininster of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Nariaki Nakayama, visited the ITER Garching Joint Work Site near Munich, Germany.


Japanese Science Minister Nariaki Nakayama at the ITER Garching Joint Work Site (Photo courtesy ITER)
He paid tribute to the hard work of the people of Rokkkasho-mura and Aomori prefecture to get ITER sited in Japan. But he recognized the strong commitment from Europe and France to siting ITER in Cadarache.

"It was not in the interests of mankind for Japan to stand in the way of the essential progress in fusion constructing ITER would bring," he said. "Nor was it worth sacrificing the high quaility six-party technical partnership built up with such care over the preceding years."

He had "very reluctantly decided that Japan should let the project be built in France," he said, and promised that Japan would continue to provide its strong support to the construction and operation in Cadarache.

U.S. Energy Department Office of Science Director Raymond Orbach, who represented the United States at the Ministerial Meeting, said “The United States supports the decision of the parties to the ITER negotiations to conduct the international fusion reaction experiment at Cadarache, France, and the U.S. looks forward to getting ITER construction there underway as soon as practical."

Now that the partners have agreed on a site, the ITER negotiations must resolve financial and procurement, management and oversight arrangements.

“In these negotiations," said Orbach, "the U.S. will continue to strive for a robust management structure and an oversight program based on the principles of equity, accountability and transparency to ensure both the success of the project and the best use of taxpayer dollars."


On September 22, 2003 Xu Guanhua, Chinese minister for science and technology visited the proposed ITER site at Cadarache. Here the delegation is shown viewing the Tore-Supra Tokamak where high heat flux components are installed. (Photo courtesy CEA)
The Cadarache was supported because it satisfies all the technical requirements specified by the international team in charge of the design of ITER, the European Commission said today.

Cadarache already hosts the world’s largest super-conducting fusion experiment Tore-Supra at the CEA Cadarache Research Centre, one of the biggest civil nuclear research centers in Europe.

The site has considerable experience in managing nuclear installations - 18 nuclear installations already on the site - and it brings together all French research activities on magnetic fusion.

These existing technical support facilities and expertise are expected to reduce the risks associated with the construction of a project such as ITER.

Cadarache is situated near Aix-en-Provence, the second largest city in France, with associated social, cultural industrial and academic infrastructure, an agreeable climate and a pleasant natural environment, the European Commission says. These amenities are expected to help attract the brightest and best nuclear scientists and engineers from around the world to the ITER project.