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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research N° 46 - August 2005    
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ITER: Europe is driving the world

It was an historic day. On 28 June, the six ITER partners decided to build the first international thermonuclear fusion reactor, in Cadarache, France. After nearly three years of intense technical discussions and political negotiations, the European Union, represented by Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik, China, South Korea, the United States, Japan and Russia finally opted for the European site in preference to its Japanese rival, Rokkasho-Mura.

This is both a formidable challenge and a genuine success. First of all, it is an ecological challenge as the aim is to develop a virtually unlimited source of clean energy. By reducing the burden on the environment, this ambitious project is to enable the planet to breathe more easily – and to continue to develop into the future. It is also a scientific and technological challenge, as the partners have committed themselves to reproducing on Earth the fusion reactions that take place in the stars within gases that reach truly ‘astronomical’ temperatures – in the region of 150 million degrees centigrade.

But above all it is a European success as for more than 30 years, and with great coherence, the European Community, and then the Union, supported the projects for the JET (Joint European Torus, based just outside Cambridge in the United Kingdom) and ITER reactors. As a result, today Europe is at the forefront of this technological sector of the future which is also – and perhaps for this very reason – the only field of research that is virtually entirely organised at Community level. So just for once let us salute the commitment and the perseverance of the Commission officials, in particular Achilleas Mitsos, Umberto Finzi and Pablo Fernandez Ruiz. In an age of political turbulence, ITER is an international project of which Europeans can be proud. With a budget of €10 billion over 30 years, it is the biggest scientific project in the world. In the long term, it offers the prospect of progressively replacing ‘black gold’ with a new kind of ‘white gold’ – the white metal lithium and water are the principal sources of this fuel – the geopolitical consequences of which we can only begin to imagine… 

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