EU stands firm on building nuclear reactor in France

16th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

STRASBOURG, Nov 16 (AFP) - The EU's executive arm warned Tuesday that Europe would go ahead and build a revolutionary nuclear fusion project in France without Japan if an agreement with Tokyo is not reached "as soon as possible."

STRASBOURG, Nov 16 (AFP) - The EU's executive arm warned Tuesday that Europe would go ahead and build a revolutionary nuclear fusion project in France without Japan if an agreement with Tokyo is not reached "as soon as possible."

The European Commission reiterated the warning as it agreed proposals for an updated EU "negotiating mandate" in the standoff between Japan and France over the site of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER).

"The Commission will try to reach a positive conclusion with all the parties as soon as possible," said the European Union's executive, while EU research commissioner Louis Michel said he hoped for an accord by the end of the year.

"If, nevertheless, the parties do not reach the hoped-for consensus, the EU would launch the construction of ITER within the largest possible framework," the Commission added.

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.

Diplomats say talks in Vienna last week made some progress but failed to break the essential deadlock over the two candidate sites for ITER -Cadarache in southern France and Rokkasho-mura in northern Japan.

"I hope that we will succeed by the end of the year," Michel told the European Parliament. "If we need several days or several weeks more to be sure of having the six partners on board I think that it is worth it."

However, he cautioned against setting artificial deadlines. "The stakes are so high that we should not put our backs to the wall with deadlines," he told the Strasbourg-based EU assembly.

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.

EU officials have said the bloc has offered Japan a "sweetener" to allow France to host the project, but refused to elaborate further.

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

Sources at the commission in Brussels have suggested that 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 earlier this month.

The Commission's latest proposals will be discussed by the relevant EU ministers on November 26.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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