The European Commission has called for a ministerial meeting to allow all parties to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) to reconfirm their political commitment to the project, EU commissioner for energy G ünther Oettinger has said.
In a speech on 17 January 2013 at the inauguration of ITER’s headquarters in Cadarache, southern France, Mr Oettinger said the meeting, which the EC wants scheduled for the autumn of 2013, should also provide a platform for high- level discussions and decisions on the progress and performance of the project and on “initiatives to facilitate its implementation”.
Mr Oettinger said when the urgency to transform the EU’s energy system has been overshadowed by the financial crisis it is important that “we keep steadfast in funding projects like ITER which is at the forefront of energy technology research, giving a long term view towards the decarbonisation of our energy supply”.
He said ITER, one of the world’s biggest scientific collaborations, has “a key role” to play in establishing fusion as a sustainable energy source.
Keeping the ITER project to schedule and within budget would be a challenge, Mr Oettinger said, but noted that “major project milestones” have been achieved in the course of 2012, such as the handover of the headquarters building to the ITER Organisation and France’s decree authorising the installation of the ITER nuclear facility in Cadarache.
He said Europe, as the main contributor – providing around 45 percent of the whole investment – has “a particular responsibility” to make ITER a success.
Geneviève Fioraso, France’s minister of higher education and research, said for France, ITER represents “the broadest international cooperation for research ever implemented”. She said the project addresses “key societal challenges” to develop sustainable energy for the future generations.
ITER – designed to demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion power – will be the world’s largest experimental fusion facility. Fusion is the process which powers the sun and the stars: when light atomic nuclei fuse together to form heavier ones, a large amount of energy is released.
ITER is also a first-of-a-kind global collaboration. Europe will contribute 45 percent of its construction costs, while the other six members to the venture (China, India, Japan, South Korea, the Russia and the US), will contribute equally to the rest.
Last week a contract worth about 300 million euro (400 million US dollars) over five-and-a-half years was awarded for construction of the main buildings at ITER, including the one that will house the Tokamak reactor itself.
Fusion for Energy (F4E), the organisation responsible for providing Europe’s contribution to ITER, said the contract was awarded to a seven-company consortium called VFR.
The central Tokamak Building will be 120 metres long and 80 metres in height and width. F4E said the building will rely on 493 plinths equipped with anti- seismic bearings, already in place, able to sustain the overall weight of the machine, which will be in the range of 23,000 tonnes, or almost three times the weight of the Eiffel Tower.
F4E said 200 construction workers are already on site and by mid-2014 this figure is expected to reach 3,000.