EU offers secret 'sweetener' to win fusion reactor for France

10th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

VIENNA, Nov 10 (AFP) - The European Union appeared Wednesday to be slowly winning the battle over who will host a new major nuclear fusion project after Japan and the United States backed down on what earlier was outright refusal to let France be home to the reactor known as ITER.

VIENNA, Nov 10 (AFP) - The European Union appeared Wednesday to be slowly winning the battle over who will host a new major nuclear fusion project after Japan and the United States backed down on what earlier was outright refusal to let France be home to the reactor known as ITER.

Two days of intense negotiations in Vienna failed to secure a firm promise from these two powers which want the revolutionary International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project to be located in Rokkasho-Mura, in north eastern Japan.

But neither Tokyo nor Washington ruled out Cadarache in southern France, the EU's choice also backed by Russia and China and already home to Europe's biggest nuclear research centre.

"All parties were greatly encouraged by the positive atmosphere and expressed their optimism that the process was now proceeding effectively towards a fruitful conclusion among the six parties in the near future," the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a statement issued after discussions closed on Tuesday.

The IAEA said the talks would "continue in the near future with the aim of aligning the two parties' views."

According to Japanese sources, the matter is likely to be settled once the winner offers the loser a substantial consolation prize for the loss of the project.

"The host will have to make a generous proposal to the non-host," Satoru Ohtake, the director of nuclear fusion at Japan's science and technology ministry, told AFP on Wednesday.

He said the final decision from Tokyo would be "taken at ministerial level."

Another source close to the talks said of the Japanese: "They seem ready to bow."

In Brussels, an official conceded Wednesday that the European Union had offered Japan a "sweetener" to allow France to host the project but refused further comment.

"I cannot elaborate on the sweetener, but I think we have made reasonable offers," European Commission spokesman Fabio Fabbi told reporters.

ITER is a test bed for what is being billed as a clean, safe, inexhaustible energy source of the future. The project, emulating the sun's nuclear fusion, is not expected to generate electricity before 2050.

The ITER budget is projected to be EUR 10 billion (USD 13 billion) over the next 30 years, including EUR 4.7 billion to build the reactor. The European Union plans to finance 40 percent of the total.

France said at the end of September that it was ready to double its financial stake in the project, bringing it up to EUR 914 million, or 20 percent of total construction cost.

The European Commission is to make a proposal on November 26 on the EU's position on the project.

Sources at the commission in Brussels said Tokyo might agree to a trade-off scenario in which it lets ITER go to France if Japan gets to be host country for a new international scientific computing centre.

The fact that a research centre already exists in Cadarache is seen as a strong point in the EU's favour. Locating ITER at a site that employs 3,500 science experts of which 400 specialise in nuclear fusion would help ITER get off the ground faster.

"They could take advantage of the existing infrastructure. They could start working at the very first day without losing their autonomy," a source close to the talks said.

Fabbi told reporters at the close of the negotiations that the commission was hopeful for a deal that would bring the project to France.

"We have reason to say that the Japanese have not flatly refused this position, although not endorsing it openly. Other delegations that have been supporting the Japanese candidate site have kept a similar line," Fabbi said.

"That's cause for some optimism," he added.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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