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EU Gets Tough on Fusion Reactor

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European research ministers say they are ready to press ahead with the Iter nuclear fusion project even if it means losing Japanese support.

The multi-billion euro reactor will produce energy from nuclear reactions like the ones that fuel the Sun.

But the international project has been stalled because the parties involved cannot agree on a location to build it.

Now, EU ministers say that if no deal is done soon, they will go it alone with a reactor at Cadarache in France.

"This is not an ultimatum, but we wish to reach a political agreement before the end of the year," French Research Minister Francois D'Aubert told reporters on Friday.

He added: "If the negotiations do not come to a rapid conclusion, the commission has the possibility to choose a different path."

Different views

After the International Space Station, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter) would be the largest global research and development collaboration.

There are currently six parties involved. The EU has the support of China and Russia to build the reactor at Cadarache.

Japan has the backing of the US and South Korea to construct Iter at Rokkasho in the north of its territory.

A decision on the location should have been made a year ago - but the parties are deadlocked.

Europe would like Japan to stand down and accept a major support role. This would involve a materials testing facility needed for the commercial reactors that could come after Iter.

Japan, however, is adamant that it has the best candidate and has been upset by the EU's negotiating tactics.

"It is extremely regrettable. We hope that the EU will handle this matter appropriately and honestly," said Takahiro Hayashi, deputy director of the Office of Fusion Energy at Japan's energy ministry.

"There is no deadline for the talks. We will continue until both sides reach an agreement," he told the AFP news agency.

Technical obstacles

Unlike in fission reactions, in which atomic nuclei are split to release energy, fusion reactions release energy when nuclei are forced together.

The process is the same as the one that powers the Sun. Achieving stable and sustained reactions on Earth present an immense challenge, however.

Nonetheless, scientists believe they have learnt enough about the technical requirements over the past few decades to now push forward with a large-scale reactor.

If the technologies can be proven in Iter, the international community would then build a prototype commercial reactor, dubbed Demo.

Source: BBC News

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