ITER - States sign nuclear energy pact -
Iter represents the biggest scientific undertaking
since the space station
An international consortium has signed a formal agreement
to build an experimental nuclear fusion reactor.
The multi-billion-euro project known as Iter -
or "the way" in Latin - will aim to produce energy
from nuclear reactions like those that fuel the Sun.
If successful, it could provide energy that is clean
and almost limitless.
The project, which will be based in France,
follows years of talks between South Korea,
Russia, China, the EU, the US, India and Japan.
If all goes well, officials will build a demonstration
power plant before rolling out the technology
to the world.
Iter says electricity could be available on
the grid within 30 years.
Click here to see how fusion works
"Fusion could become the dominant source of electricity
on Earth in a century or so - we have to work to try
to get it," Jerome Pamela of Iter told the BBC.
Green Room (BBC)
Fusion: Necessary investment
"Not doing so would be irresponsible because the outcome
could be huge, great for humanity," he said, adding
that it was nonetheless a "very, very demanding
challenge" to essentially imitate the work of
the Sun on Earth.
In a fusion reaction, energy is released when light
atomic nuclei - the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and
tritium - are fused together to form heavier atomic nuclei.
To use controlled fusion reactions on Earth as an energy source, it is necessary to heat a gas to temperatures
exceeding 100 million Celsius -
many times hotter than the centre of the Sun.
Isn't the money that's being spent on fusion better
spent on proven technologies rather than chasing a dream?
Roger Higman, Friends of the Earth
The technical requirements to do this, which scientists have spent decades developing, are immense; but the rewards,
if Iter can be made to work successfully, are extremely attractive.
One of the attractions of fusion is the tiny amount of fuel needed. The release of energy from a fusion reaction is
said to be 10 million times greater than from a typical chemical reaction, such as burning a fossil fuel.
The project is based in Cadarache, about 60km (40 miles)
from Marseille in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur region.
It currently hosts Tore-Supra, one of the existing
European centres for fusion research.
ITER - NUCLEAR FUSION PROJECT
Prominences on the Sun (Nasa)
Fusion is the nuclear process that operates at the core
of the Sun
Project estimated to cost 10bn euros and will run for
It will produce the first sustained fusion reactions
Final stage before full prototype of commercial reactor is built
Work to clear a wooded area for the Iter buildings will begin in the spring. Ancillary and power facilities and a visitors' centre will go up in 2008. The reactor itself will start to take shape in 2009.
The French site was chosen after a long period of bartering between the Iter parties; and the EU, as the host bloc, is shouldering 50% of the five-billion-euro construction costs.
The deal signed by ministers on Tuesday puts those
negotiations into effect, establishing the
international organisation that will implement
the Iter fusion energy project.
The signature took place at a ceremony at the Elysee Palace
in Paris, hosted by the president of France, Jacques Chirac, and by the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Durao Barroso.
After the signature ceremony, the first meeting of
the Interim Iter Council will take place.
The green lobby is opposed to the Iter project.
It believes the benefits have been oversold and
the difficulties and waste production issues
Roger Higman, policy coordinator for Friends of the Earth,
told BBC News: "We face a very real energy crisis over
the next 50 years which is to do with climate change;
that we have to stop using coal, oil and gas.
"The question we would ask is: isn't the money that's
being spent on fusion better spent on proven technologies rather than chasing a dream that even its proponents
say will take a hundred years before it's going to
providing any of our energy answers?"
Fusion schematic (BBC)
The proposed Iter reactor is shaped like a doughnut - a Russian-conceived design referred to as a tokomak
Deuterium and tritium - isotopes of hydrogen -
are fed into the reactor and heated to 100 million Celsius
A powerful magnetic field holds the hot plasma, or gas,
away from the walls and squeezes to initiate fusion
Iter hopes to do this in bursts of 500 seconds;
a commercial reactor would have to run for prolonged
In a commercial reactor, energetic neutrons are absorbed
in a surrounding 'blanket' to drive a steam-turbine system http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6165932.stm