EU ministers agreed on Friday to continue seeking Japan's backing to build the world's first thermonuclear reactor in France but could go ahead without Tokyo if there was no deal by the end of the year, EU officials said.
BRUSSELS − EU ministers agreed on Friday to continue seeking Japan's backing to build the world's first thermonuclear reactor in France but could go ahead without Tokyo if there was no deal by the end of the year, EU officials said.
The ministers set no official deadline for the talks, to be handled by the EU's executive Commission, although the Dutch Presidency said it would push for a deal with Tokyo by the end of December.
The EU would prefer to build the nuclear reactor, touted as a long-term solution to world energy problems, with the backing of all parties in the project -- Japan, China, Russia, the United States, and South Korea, officials said.
"This is not an ultimatum, but we wish to reach a political agreement before the end of the year," French Research Minister Francois D'Aubert told a news briefing.
If no deal was reached, the EU would press ahead and build the 10-billion-euro ($13 billion) reactor in Cadarache, France, with as many partners as possible, officials said. "If the negotiations do not come to a rapid conclusion, the Commission has the possibility to choose a different path," D'Auberst said.
"This is a solution of last resort," said an EU official present at the research ministers' talks.
The EU might offer Tokyo a privileged partner role in the mammoth nuclear fusion research plan to compensate for not building it in Japan, officials said.
Energy production by nuclear fusion would be low on pollution, using sea water as fuel. But 50 years of research have so far failed to produce a commercially viable fusion reactor.
Site Should Be in Europe
Last week, the Commission suggested offering Japan a package of incentives so Tokyo would abandon its bid to host the fusion reactor, allowing the site in Cadarache, France, to win instead.
But Japan reacted angrily to this, accusing the EU of being high-handed in the negotiations. EU officials said the United States had also expressed concern at the EU's approach.
Diplomats say the EU offer might include creating a fusion institute in Japan worth one billion euros for pre-research activity linked to the project on condition that Japan raised its financial contribution to the reactor.
Construction of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is currently forecast to cost some 4.6 billion euros over a 10-year period. The EU intends to cover 40 percent of that from its budget while France has proposed doubling its contribution to 20 percent of the costs.
Including a development phase, the ITER project is forecast to last 30 years at an overall cost of 10 billion euros.
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 stepped aside.