- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2006

BRUSSELS (AP) — The United States, European Union, Japan, China, Russia and others signed a $12.8 billion agreement yesterday to build an experimental nuclear-fusion project they hope will lead to a cheaper, safer, cleaner and endless source of energy.

The seven-party consortium, which includes India and South Korea, agreed last year to build the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER, in Cadarache, in the southern French region of Provence.

The consortium hopes the new technology will help the world move away from its dependency on fossil fuels.

Fusion reproduces the sun’s power source, but produces no greenhouse gas emissions and just low levels of radioactive waste.

He said participants will try to ratify their agreement before the end of the year so construction on the facility can start next year. Officials said the experimental reactor will take about eight years to build.

The 25-nation European Union is to pay about half the cost to build the experimental reactor, with the six other parties contributing 10 percent each.

If all goes well with the experimental reactor, officials hope to set up a demonstration power plant in Cadarache around 2040. Officials project that 10 percent to 20 percent of the world’s energy could come from fusion by the end of the century.

Environmental groups slammed the project as “ill-judged and irresponsible,” saying there was no guarantee that the expense would result in a commercially viable energy source.

“Investment in energy efficiency and renewables is the only reliable way to guarantee energy security,” said Silvia Hermann, from Friends of the Earth Europe.

The European Commission said the investment was justified, adding that the technology used in such fusion reactor plants would be “inherently safe, with no possibility of meltdown, or runaway reactions.”

The EU head office said the fuel consumption of a fusion power station would be lower than present day coal-fired power plants, which emit harmful emissions that damage the environment.

The European Union also has said that the Cadarache site will boost Europe’s role in developing new technologies and is likely to create about 10,000 jobs.

The consortium had been divided over where to put the test reactor, and competition was intense. Russia, China and the European Union wanted it at Cadarache, while Japan, the United States and South Korea wanted the facility built at Rokkasho in northern Japan.

Tokyo backed off after agreeing to a bigger role in research and operations.

Cadarache already houses one of the biggest civil nuclear research centers in Europe.

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