Joining forces. The E.U.'s Janez Potocnik (left) helps Japan's Nariaki Nakayama sign on the dotted line today in Moscow.

ITER Finds a Home

Dan is a deputy news editor for Science.

After a year and a half of tense diplomacy and secret discussions, an international fusion research collaboration has finally chosen a site for the world's most expensive experiment. Meeting today in Moscow, science ministers from China, the European Union, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States announced that Cadarache in southern France will be home to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER).

ITER aims to recreate the Sun's power on Earth. Using intense magnetic fields to hold hydrogen isotopes at extremely high temperature and pressure, it would produce a flood of energy as the isotopes fuse to form larger nuclei. Originally proposed at a U.S.-Soviet summit in 1985, the ITER design was essentially complete in 2001, but when the six partners gathered in Washington, D.C., in December 2003 to pick a site, Korea and the United States supported Rokkasho in Northern Japan, while Russia and China backed the E.U.'s candidate at Cadarache (Science, 2 January 2004, p.22).

The logjam began to move in April this year following high-level meetings between E.U. and Japanese politicians. The two rivals for host agreed on a deal guaranteeing the loser certain concessions (Science, 13 May, p.934). This week, Japan graciously withdrew Rokkasho from the running. "Japan will serve as what you could call a quasi-host country for ITER project," Japan's science minister Nariaki Nakayama told a press conference today. "Through the extra facility, we will become a base for international research and development in fusion energy equal in importance to the E.U."

As expected, the E.U. will pay for 50% of ITER's $5 billion construction price tag. The other five partners will contribute 10% each as payments-in-kind. As a consolation to Japan, the E.U. will place some of its industrial contracts with Japanese companies so that Japan will end up building 20% of the reactor. Japanese researchers will also make up 20% of the staff of the ITER organization and the E.U. will support a Japanese candidate as its director general. Some headquarters functions will be sited in Japan, and the E.U. will support Japan to host any future demonstration reactor that may come after ITER.

European fusion researchers are delighted with the result. "Everyone is very happy," says Alex Bradshaw, scientific director of the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Garching, Germany, and chair of Germany's fusion research program. "I'm extremely pleased," adds Jean Jacquinot, former head of the Cadarache fusion lab and now science adviser to France's High Commissioner for Atomic Energy, "not because it is Cadarache but because the whole community can now get together and build something."

With reporting from Andrey Allakhverdov in Moscow.

Related sites
ITER
U.S. Fusion Energy Science Program

Posted in Europe