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29th Sep 2016

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Germany 'not satisfied' with nuclear fusion spending

Germany has said it is unhappy with the "exorbitant" cost of the EU's international nuclear fusion project, Iter EU, and called for more transparency on spending.

"The bigger a science project is - and in Iter, Europe is not the only member - the more complicate its governance. Iter is exorbitant," Annette Schavan, Germany's education and research minister told journalists on Tuesday (10 May).

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  • A detailed cutaway of the Iter, with hot plasma, in pink, in the centre. (Photo: ITER)

Schavan said that Berlin last year demanded a special taskforce to investigate the governance of the France-based nuclear fusion project, which aims to generate energy from fusing atoms, instead of splitting them as it is the case with the current nuclear technology (fission).

Apart from the EU - carrying the brunt of the cost (45 percent), the mega-project includes Russia, China, the US, India, Japan and South Korea contributing with nine percent of the cost, expected to reach over €15 billion. Supporters of the project say it will deliver to the world an essentially endless supply of cheap energy.

But the cost has tripled from its initial estimate in 2005, with Schavan noting that "science has a tendency to encourage politics to ask for more money."

"It is good for Europe to be present in such a project and Germany still supports it, but we need more transparency in its governance, more financial discipline. I am not satisfied today, one year later after the taskforce was put in place," she said.

The European Parliament last year refused to approve a proposal by the European Commission to reallocate €1.3 billion from the Union's unspent budget to cover a financing shortfall for the project.

The commission has re-cast its bid for the 2012 budget, pointing out that this is an international commitment the bloc cannot abandon and that construction is set to begin next year. A first debate in the parliament in April had Greens protesting against the project and pointing out that it is to be built in a seismic area, recalling the disaster of Fukushima, a nuclear fission plant.

Iter maintains that no comparisons can be made, since the technology is fundamentally different.

Yet radioactive materials will still be produced if the researchers manage to secure a safe reactor for the high-power reaction to take place.

Sebastien Balibar, a leading French nuclear physicist, has cast doubts that the EU-funded project will ever come into being: "We say that we will put the sun into a box. The idea is pretty. The problem is, we don't know how to make the box," he told the Wisconsin Scientist in 2006.

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