June 28, 2005

France to host nuclear fusion project

By Guy Faulconbridge

MOSCOW (Reuters) - France is to host the world's firstnuclear fusion reactor, the project's multinational partnersagreed on Tuesday, bringing closer a technology backers saycould one day provide the world with endless cheap energy.

France beat off a rival bid from Japan to host the10-billion-euro ($12.18 billion) experimental reactor atCadarache in the south of the country, according to anagreement signed by the partners after a meeting in Moscow.

The ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor)project is backed by China, the EU, Japan, Russia, South Koreaand the United States. It seeks to mimic the way the sunproduces energy, potentially providing an inexhaustible sourceof low-cost energy using seawater as fuel.

Unlike fission reactors used in existing nuclear powerstations, which release energy by splitting atoms apart, ITERwould generate energy by combining them.

"After long discussions and a great deal of joint work, theparticipants chose the site of Cadarache in France," Russia'satomic energy chief Alexander Rumyantsev told reporters.

"Today we are making history in terms of internationalscientific cooperation," the EU's Science and ResearchCommissioner Janez Potocnik said in a statement.

"Now that we have reached consensus on the site for ITER,we will make all efforts to finalize the agreement on theproject, so that construction can begin as soon as possible,"Potocnik said.

Japan and France have wrangled for months over where thereactor should be built while other partners have clashed overfunding, causing repeated delays in the project.

ITER began in 1985. Decades of research, however, have yetto produce a commercially viable fusion reactor.

The EU supported the French bid to have the reactor builtin Cadarache. Tokyo had sought to have it built in the northernJapanese village of Rokkasho. The other partners have also beenat odds over which of the two should host the reactor.

"It is a big success for France, for Europe and for all thepartners of ITER," said a statement issued by the office ofFrench President Jacques Chirac.

France has been a big producer of nuclear energy since theoil shocks of the 1970s and has 58 nuclear reactors, the mostin the world after the United States. (Additional reporting by Brussels newsroom)