The EU would be prepared to go it alone and build an ITER-scale fusion reactor at Cadarache, France, if there is no international agreement on where to locate the prototype, according to Janez Potocnik, the incoming commissioner for research.
In answer to a European Parliament questionnaire, he said the EU could consider launching the construction of the ITER at Cadarache with those of its partners willing to be involved, although only as the very last resort. If the EU did take this step Potocnik said he hoped that other partners would join the project later.
His declaration comes at a time when ITER consortium partners remain deadlocked over where to build the reactor, with the alternative site being Rokkasho, in Japan. Potocnik said he would keep pushing for a consensus, declaring it would be a major defeat if it were not possible to agree on a site with all our partners.
Meanwhile, he plans to encourage the development of international action to design technology to make ITER operate successfully, he said. This will include the development of materials highly resistant to radiation, creating a system to produce the fusion fuel tritium, improving ways to confine fusion plasma, and studying the socio-economic implications of successful fusion power generation.
As a result, he declared that the EU would spend substantial separate sums of money on fusion research, partly through the current sixth and upcoming seventh framework programmes. If the Slovenian commissioner gets his way, the Commission will have a lot more money to spend on such studies, as he is supporting plans developed by his predecessor, Belgium’s Philippe Busquin, to inflate the seventh programme budget to e40bn (£27bn), double the current sixth programme’s size.
‘I believe that magnetic confinement fusion, once it has been mastered at technical and commercial level, has the potential to play an important role in the long-term for the production of electricity,’ said Potocnik.