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EU denies funding for fusion reactor

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Staff Writers
Brussels (UPI) Dec 17, 2010
A plan to save financing for a multinational nuclear fusion reactor project has been rejected at the last minute.

The European Parliament refused to approve a plan by member states to transfer $1.84 billion from the European Union's current budget to cover rising construction costs of the multibillion-dollar International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, the BBC reports.

"We had the green light of the Council of Ministers but the Parliament did not follow," the BBC quoted Michel Claessens, a spokesman for the European Commission's research directorate as saying. "The commission will put forward a proposal for the budgetary resolution of Iter next year."

Iter Director General Osamu Motojima was to have crisis talks with EU officials Friday in Brussels to save the project, which has come under fire for ballooning costs. Overall costs for the multinational project have tripled from an initial $6 billion estimate in 2006 to $18 billion.

The research reactor is to be built by 2015 in southern France by a consortium including the European Union, China Japan, Russia, India and the United States. It is then to operate for another 20 years.

The aim of ITER is to show that atoms can be fused together inside a reactor to produce electricity. Conventional nuclear power reactors do the opposite, harnessing energy released from splitting atoms apart.

The EU, which at the start of the project pledged to shoulder 45 percent of the costs, said its share has grown by more than $1.7 billion to at least $9 billion. China, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States are each chipping in 9 percent of the total cost.

Observers hope that nuclear fusion can one day produce CO2-free base-load power on a large-scale. Nuclear fusion involves heating gases to temperatures exceeding 200 million degrees Fahrenheit -- hotter than the core of the sun.

Once the technical challenges -- and there are many -- are overcome, fusion power has potential advantages including the existence of abundant fuel, a relatively safe energy generation producing only low-level waste and no production of greenhouse gases.

But critics say the international community is investing too much money into an energy source that might never, or at least not anytime soon, benefit the ordinary population in the form of large-scale energy generation.

A 2006 editorial in New Scientist magazine said that "if commercial fusion is viable, it may well be a century away."

earlier related report
EU fusion funding proposal fails
Brussels (UPI) Dec 16, 2010 - The European Parliament has rejected a last-ditch plan to rescue financing for a nuclear fusion reactor project, officials say.

EU member states had wanted to reallocate $1.8 billion from the existing Brussels budget to cover a shortfall in building costs in 2012-13 for the Iter fusion reactor under construction in France, which will attempt to create energy by using the same nuclear processes that power the sun, the BBC reported Thursday.

"We had the green light of the Council of Ministers, but the Parliament did not follow," Michel Claessens, a spokeman for the directorate-general of research at the European Commission, said.

Under a plan agreed to by member states in July, the EU was to have met a critical shortfall in Iter financing using unspent funds and research funds from it 2010 budget, but the Parliament refused and has closed out the 2010 budget. The financing plan will have to be revised if and when a new proposal is introduced next year, officials said.

The original plan for Iter, which began construction in 2008, called for completion of the reactor within 10 years at a budget of $6.6 billion. Many experts say the final cost will be in the region of $19 billion.

Europe is responsible for 45 percent of the total cost, which the European Commission says will amount to $8.7 billion.

The six other partners in the Iter project -- China, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States -- are each contributing 9 percent of the final cost.

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