Fusion as an energy source: the ITER project is back on track
Today the European Commission has adopted a communication presenting the revised schedule and budget estimates for European participation in the ITER project. This international project aims to build in Europe a key facility for testing the possibility of generating sustainable energy from fusion. A new baseline for the project plans the first experiments for 2025 and full power operation by 2035. Europe has played from the start a leading role in the project developed in close collaboration with the other countries who are part of ITER – the US, Russia, China, India, Japan, and Korea. Euratom is financing 45% of the construction costs of the project (the share will be less once it is in operation). France, as the host country for the project, is financing one fifth of this contribution.
After its launch in 2007, the project initially suffered from delays and unexpectedly high costs, largely due to the complexity of the first-of-its kind technology it uses and the difficulties inherent in its international character. Following a major effort to turn the project and its management around, a new baseline for the project was prepared in 2016. It aims to complete the construction of the ITER facility to allow the first experiments in 2025 and full power operation by 2035. The new baseline is fully compatible with the funding available for EU's ITER actions in the EU budgets under the current multiannual financial framework (MFF).
Since the turnaround in 2015-2016, milestones have been set by the ITER Council to allow close monitoring of the project progress. To date, all the project milestones due have been completed, and the pace of construction is steadily increasing both on-site (primarily construction of the buildings), and off-site: industry in Europe and worldwide is in full production and the first big components are due to be delivered by the end of this year.
With the project back on track, the new schedule and its associated costs, together with the substantial improvement in the management of the project, provide the necessary ground for the Commission to request the support of the European Parliament and a mandate from the Council of the EU to approve the new baseline of the project on behalf of Euratom. This Communication does not make concrete financial commitments on ITER ahead of the new MFF negotiations. Concrete financial commitments for the period post-2020 will be made at the time of budgetary authority decisions for the new MFF and will be finalized by heads of state and government in 2019. The Brexit-related implications are not discussed therefore in detail in the Commission's Communication.