Decision on ITER postponed until February at the earliest

January 6, 2004

Brussels, 05 Jan 2004

The much awaited meeting between participants in the international thermonuclear experimental reactor (ITER) project, which was to settle where the reactor will be hosted, closed without a decision on 20 December.

Delegates released a statement indicating that the quality of the two candidate sites - Cadarache in France and Rokkasho-mura in Japan - means that more time is needed to assess each bid. It is hoped that further deliberations will also help participants to reach a consensus, as the decision cannot be made by a vote.

'We have agreed to provide remaining questions to the candidate host parties by the end of December for their answers by the end of January,' says a statement released after the 20 December meeting. The statement adds that the next meeting is likely to take place in mid-February.

France remains confident that it can overcome competition from Japan. 'The ITER project remains an absolute priority for Europe. We are completely convinced that our human, financial and technical assets should enable us to see this project through,' said Claudie Haigneré, French Minister for Research and New Technologies. 'The whole community of researchers who have worked on this project for more than forty years, remains mobilised,' she added.

The French site has the advantage of an existing research facility and a more moderate climate than the Japanese site, which in turn boasts proximity to a port, a ground of solid bedrock, and a nearby US military base. The project's participants - the EU, the US, Russia, China, Canada, Japan and South Korea - are currently believed to be divided equally in their support for the two sites.

The world's first nuclear fusion reactor will give a substantial economic boost to the location chosen as its host. France estimates that the project could inject 24 billion euro into the local economy over 30 years.

Speaking before the meeting, US Secretary of State for Energy, Spencer Abraham, was confident that ministers would be able to work together to implement the project: 'The ITER project proves that governments can work together to look to the future. It proves that even when the choices are difficult, and the task complex, we can commit to a project that will not be completed until many of us sitting around this table are well beyond our years of public service.'

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CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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