Positive Environment News

Japan May End Bid For Nuclear Fusion Project - Report

Date: 05-May-05
Country: JAPAN

Japan might make the concession because it believed it would win construction work and jobs even if it did not host the project, the Yomiuri Shimbun said, quoting government sources.

"The government hopes to finish negotiating with ... the countries concerned and to reach a formal agreement next month," the newspaper said.

Nuclear fusion, using sea water to create energy, has been touted as an environmentally clean solution to the world's energy problems. But 50 years of research have so far failed to produce a commercially viable fusion reactor.

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project will seek to build the first fusion reactor but competing bids from Japan and France have led to months of wrangling over who will host the high-profile and lucrative project.

Efforts to resolve the impasse gained momentum after European Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik made a fresh proposal in Tokyo in April, the paper said.

That plan was similar to a Japanese proposal in September under which non-host countries would win orders for 20 percent of construction work while bearing just 10 percent of the cost, it said.

Officials for Japan's Science and Technology Ministry were not immediately available to comment on the report on Wednesday, a national holiday in Japan.

The European Commission said it had seen the report but had
received no official information.

"We are continuing our discussions in order to clarify the role of the hosts and non-hosts of ITER following the meeting between Messrs Nakayama and Potocnik on April 12 in Tokyo," Antonia Mochan, spokewoman for the Commission's Science and Research Directorate, told a regular news briefing.

Nariaki Nakayama is Japan's minister for education, culture, science and technology.

Once the host issue has been clarified, "we will be in working order to reach an international agreement by July", Mochan said.

"Nothing has changed. Things are going very well indeed," she added.

European Union member state ministers are due to discuss ITER next Tuesday in Brussels.

The European Union has put the total cost of the project at about 10 billion euros ($13 billion), of which 4.5 billion euros will go directly on building the reactor -- which would generate energy by combining atoms, unlike current fission reactors that release energy by splitting them apart.

ITER, which means "the way" in Latin, would operate at more than 100 million degrees Celsius to produce 500 MW of power, according to the project Web site (www.iter.org). The reactor, due to start in 2015, would run for around 20 years.

Other partners in the project are split over where to site ITER. South Korea and the United States back Japan's bid, while China and Russia stand behind the EU push for France.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was noncommittal on Monday when asked if he could ever support the project going to France.

"Discussions are proceeding so that an agreement can be produced among the six parties. We agreed that we should engage in efforts so an agreement can be reached as early as possible," he said in Luxembourg following an EU-Japan summit.

The EU wants to see ITER built in Cadarache in France while Tokyo wants it in the northern village of Rokkasho. Both sides have set a deadline of July to decide where to site the project.

(Additional reporting by Huw Jones in Brussels)

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