France to Host Nuclear Fusion Project, Says EU Source
BRUSSELS − The European Union is confident of a deal on Tuesday for France to host a $12 billion global nuclear fusion project after Japan signalled it would give up its bid in return for compensation, an EU source said on Monday.
The European Union and five other industrial powers plan to build the world's first futuristic reactor that would generate energy through nuclear fusion in an attempt to harness the source of the sun's power and tame it for humanity.
But the six partners in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) have been split over where to locate the reactor, with Washington backing Tokyo's bid in what was seen as a payback for French opposition to the Iraq war.
Negotiators from the EU, United States, South Korea, Japan, Russia and China began meeting on Monday in Vienna, headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to seek a deal.
"The agreement foresees Iter in Cadarache," the source said, referring to the French site north of Marseille. "They are preparing an agreement under which the Japanese would receive something."
In Vienna, an official at the U.N. nuclear watchdog said a statement would be issued after the talks on Tuesday.
While an EU diplomat in the Austrian capital said there was still no final recommendation on Monday, a Western diplomat said it appeared Japan had given up hope and acknowledged it would not get the reactor but was negotiating for compensation.
The EU has been ratcheting up diplomatic pressure to host ITER and in September asked the European Commission, its executive arm, to assess the cost of going ahead even if the United States did not participate.
EU ministers had been expected to decide on the prestigious project, which has big industrial and technological spin-off benefits, on Nov. 25-26.
A Commission spokesman declined to confirm that a deal had been struck but said the EU executive was hopeful.
"We are optimistic," spokesman Fabio Fabbi said. "We hope to have a positive result with ITER in Cadarache."
While the EU, backed by China and Russia, wanted ITER to be built in Cadarache, the United States along with South Korea had preferred Rokkasho, a remote fishing village in northern Japan.
Non-EU countries such as Brazil and Switzerland had also expressed interest in joining the project on the EU side. The ITER project would create the world's first sustained nuclear fusion reaction, which would last for several minutes. Fusion is low in pollution since it has a virtually limitless supply of fuel in the form of sea water.
France's Ministry for Research would not confirm or deny that Cadarache had been chosen.
"One has to remain extremely cautious," a source close to Research Minister Francois d'Aubert said. "Negotiations are still ongoing and for the moment, they have not been concluded."
In a bid to end the stalemate, France proposed doubling its contribution for the 4.77 billion euros needed to build the reactor in Cadarache over 10 years. Paris is ready to pay 914 million euros or 20 percent of the costs.
The EU will pay 40 percent of the costs, while China and Russia will give a 10 percent contribution. The remaining 20 percent will come from other participating parties.
(additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau in Vienna)