The research ministers of the seven international parties engaged in the $10 billion ITER fusion project have met in Brussels to confirm the agreements negotiated over the past year, following the selection of the construction and operation site at Cadarache in southern France (see Superconductor Week, Vol 20, No. 12). Since the decision last June to locate the project at Cadarache, the seven parties (the EU, Russia, Japan, China, India, South Korea and the U.S.) have been working on agreements that would bring to an end a complex — and at times acrimonious — three year long negotiation process. Now each partner in the project must confirm the adoption of the agreement according to laws and practices of their respective governments.
For the EU, the host and largest financial contributor to ITER, this means that the Council of Ministers will be asked to adopt a decision endorsing the agreement. The EU is represented by the EURATOM Community. ITER’s Director General, Kaname Ikeda, hopes all parties will have completed the process by the end of 2006, which, in tandem with the completion of the process of gaining all necessary construction permits at the site, will mean actual construction can start in 2007.
“This is a truly crucial moment, for the ITER project and for global scientific co-operation in general,” said European Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik, who hosted the meeting. “Together we are forging a new model for large-scale global scientific and technical cooperation.”
EU will provide 40% of the 5 billion euro ($6.4 billion) construction costs for ITER, with the other partners paying approximately 10% each. The EU is also paying 26 percent of the 5 billion euro operating costs.
In other news in the fusion effort, and paralleling the international progress in pursuit of the world’s largest fusion project, the Institute of Plasma Physics at Hefei, under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), has successfully completed the first tests of the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) fusion experiment. The final assembly of the device is complete, and it is now undergoing vacuumizing, cooling, and galvanizing experiments. The first plasma discharge is scheduled for July or August.
EAST started overall assembly in 2003, and was developed as an upgrade from HT-7, China’s first superconducting tokamak completed in 1990. The budget for the device was just 300 million yuan ($37 million) — a small fraction of the cost of the multi hundred million dollar price tag of similar devices being developed elsewhere.
If the device succeeds, China will become the first country to build and successfully demonstrate a superconducting tokamak fusion device. The goals for EAST include exploring and demonstrating steady-state operation of a tokamak and generating plasma currents of 1MA. With a capability for pulse times as long as 1,000 seconds, the device will also be used to investigate particle and heat flux handling on a time scale much longer than the wall equilibration time.
“The EAST project research results will be significant for the International Thermonuclear Experiment Reactor, or ITER, in terms of basic research both in engineering technology and physics,” said Wan Yuanxi, General Manager of EAST. “The technology developed for EAST will allow fabrication of ITER parts in China.”
India, the most recent addition to the ITER partnership, has been awarded the critical role of building the cryostat (refrigeration enclosures for the superconducting magnets used in the devices) for the massive device. China is moving ahead with large-scale fusion research projects on a number of fronts. Fusion may or may not prove to be a technologically feasible source of virtually endless energy, but I am continually amazed at the energy and sacrifice that poorer nations are capable of in pursuit of alternative ways to fuel their growth, environmental stability, and energy security.