16th Jul 2018

Commission plugs nuclear fusion funding hole with EU research cash

  • A European fusion device pictured in 2007 (Photo: fusionenergyvisual)

An international project aimed at creating nuclear fusion energy that has met with runaway construction costs will receive a fresh injection of cash from the EU, with the European Commission diverting millions in research monies and other EU spending to plug the funding hole.

The cost of building the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter), a magnetic confinement fusion research project located in Cadarache, France, that is intended to provide a bridge between the lab and electricity-producing fusion power plants of the future, has expanded considerably since plans were first mooted.

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If successful, nuclear fusion is the perfect new energy source, as the process, the same as that which powers the sun, is produce from a fuel source that will not run out, is safe and does not produce radioactive waste or earth-warming carbon dioxide.

But costs have soared far beyond original projects, to €16 billion at a time of draconian austerity measures almost everywhere, with the EU's share of the bill doubling.

With EU member states unwilling to pay up, the commission has filled a €1.4 billion spending gap for 2012-13 by raiding the research funding budget.

Some €460 million will redirected from the union's research programme and another €940 million will come from unspecified "unspent" EU funds.

"Iter can provide a safe, clean and inexhaustible source of energy for the future," said budget commissioner Janusz Lewandowski and research commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn in a statement announcing the budgetary move."This is an immense prize."

Despite its clean credentials, nuclear fusion is controversial amongst some greens, including the Green Party in the European Parliament, not for its effect on the environment, but for potentially diverting cash away from other cheaper renewable energy sources.

A joint project between the EU, the US, Russia, Japan, China, India and South Korea, the plan had originally been to complete the experiment within 10 years. It is now thought results will not be achieved for another 30.

Optimism in Bonn about fusion reactor, despite Brexit

Brexit 'may have significant effect' on nuclear fusion research project, say EU auditors, but scientist involved says it is a question of 'when' not 'if' fusion power is scaled up commercially.

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EU negotiators have reached a deal on a new renewable energy directive. 'One of the most sensitive issues during the negotiations was biofuels from food and feed crops,' said MEP Bas Eickhout.


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