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Europeans will back deal with Japan for fusion facility

European Union ministers will support a proposal to offer compensation to Japan in return for an agreement to build the world’s first thermonuclear reactor in France, officials say.
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

European Union ministers will support a proposal to offer compensation to Japan in return for an agreement to build the world’s first thermonuclear reactor in France, officials said Wednesday.

Nuclear fusion has been touted as a long-term solution to the world’s energy problems, as it would be low on pollution and use limitless sea water as fuel. But 50 years of research have so far failed to produce a commercially viable fusion reactor.

The European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, last week offered Japan a package of incentives to persuade it to give up its bid to host the fusion reactor, allowing a site in Cadarache, France, to win instead.

EU industry ministers will discuss the issue at a meeting Friday and are expected to unanimously endorse the commission’s proposal. They will also charge the commission to continue negotiations, diplomats said.

“All of the delegations were in favor of the recommendations,” an EU official said, referring to a discussion among the 25-nation bloc’s ambassadors to the EU.

The EU prefers to seek agreement with all six parties in the project — the EU, Japan, China, Russia, the United States, and South Korea — but is ready to go ahead and build the reactor with its European partners in case of a blockage.

According to a diplomat, the EU offer could include the creation of an institute for fusion in Japan worth $1.3 billion (1 billion euros) that would be charged with pre-research activity linked to the ITER project, on condition that Japan raises its financial contribution.

The Commission said last week it would offer Japan a “privileged partner role.”

ITER’s construction is currently forecast to cost $6 billion (4.57 billion euros). The EU intends to cover 40 percent of that from the European Community budget, while France has proposed doubling its contribution to 20 percent of the costs.

The United States and South Korea have previously supported the site at Rokkasho, a Japanese fishing village, but EU sources believe they would back Cadarache if Tokyo steps aside.

Japan has pressed for compensation if its bid fails and has accused the EU of being high-handed in the negotiations.