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Fusion plant talks end without decision

Talks on where to build the world’s first nuclear fusion reactor ended indecisively on Tuesday, while the European Union toned down threats to site the plant in France.
This illustration shows a cutaway view of the nuclear fusion reactor planned for ITER. The main vacuum vessel would be 100 feet (30 meters) high. The tokamak-style reactor would begin operations around 2014.
This illustration shows a cutaway view of the nuclear fusion reactor planned for ITER. The main vacuum vessel would be 100 feet (30 meters) high. The tokamak-style reactor would begin operations around 2014.ITER / ITER
/ Source: Reuters

Talks on where to build the world’s first nuclear fusion reactor ended indecisively on Tuesday, while the European Union toned down threats to site the plant in France.

“The six-party talks ended without an agreement on the site,” a Western diplomat familiar with the discussions told Reuters. He said that both France and Japan remained equal candidates to host the $12 billion reactor project.

Nuclear fusion has been touted as a long-term solution to the world’s energy problems, as it would be low in pollution and use limitless sea water as fuel. The idea is to replicate the way the sun generates energy.

The EU was optimistic that a deal could eventually be reached favoring it. Europe wants the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) to be built at Cadarache, near Marseille, rather than at a rival site in Japan.

“There was no agreement but there was no breakdown either. On the contrary, we have done good work and made good progress,” European Commission spokesman Fabio Fabbi told Reuters.

“The two countries least enthusiastic about the European option -- Japan and the United States -- weren’t very warm but they were no longer firmly against it,” he said.

The EU earlier warned it may go ahead and build the experimental reactor in Cadarache, southern France, with as many partners as are willing to participate if there was no deal with

the United States, Japan, Russia, China and South Korea at the two-day Vienna talks.
But it toned down these comments after the Vienna talks ended. Asked if the EU was ready to go it alone, Fabbi said: “We’re not there yet. We are still in a multilateral process.”

Officials at the Japanese mission in Vienna were not immediately available for comment.

EU research and industry ministers are due to discuss how to move forward at a meeting on Nov. 25-26 and the Commission will recommend a course of action depending on the outcome of the Vienna talks, Fabbi said.

EU 'coalition of the willing'
The EU’s tactics in the fight for the reactor resembled methods for which Europeans often criticize the United States -- vowing to go it alone with a “coalition of the willing” if a multilateral forum does not back its course.

An EU source told Reuters on Monday that Cadarache was set to win the contest because Japan had signaled it would drop its bid in return for compensation.

But an official at the Japanese Science and Technology Ministry said Tokyo had not ended its bid to host the project.

The Western diplomat said about the talks: “They’re still trying to slug it out ... The Japanese haven’t given up yet.

“The Japanese are offering inducements to the French and the French are offering inducements to the Japanese,” he said.

The United States initially backed Japan’s bid to put the reactor in the remote northern fishing village of Rokkasho in what was seen as a punishment to France for leading opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

It now appears to be neutral. Asked where Washington now stood, a U.S. official in Vienna said: “The United States supports a six-party ITER, but negotiations on where that will be located are still progressing today.”

Fusion involves sticking atoms together, as opposed to today’s nuclear reactors and weapons, which produce energy by blowing atoms apart. However, 50 years of research have failed to produce a commercially viable fusion reactor.