23rd Mar 2018

Optimism in Bonn about fusion reactor, despite Brexit

  • The ITER machine is being built in the south of France (Photo: © ITER Organization)

As climate negotiators were discussing words and commas in preparation for implementing the Paris agreement at one area of the Bonn climate conference in Germany, another zone is reminiscent of a trade fair - with countries and companies offering green solutions.

But while many propose reducing carbon emissions in the coming years, one exhibition offers a solution for a longer timeframe.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • 'We are trying to replicate the energy of the sun', said Shakeib Ali Arshad (r) (Photo: Peter Teffer)

"We are trying to replicate the energy of the sun," engineer Shakeib Ali Arshad told this website earlier this week.

Arshad works for Fusion for Energy (F4E), an EU organisation that contributes to a complicated, ambitious international project to create fusion power.

Fusion is the process of colliding the nuclei of hydrogen atoms, a reaction that occurs naturally in the sun – hence the comparison.

"It's safe, clean, and long-term," said Arshad.

The fuel for the fusion reactor, hydrogen, can last millions of years, he said.

The physics has proven possible but at small scale fusion requires large amounts of energy. The current challenge is to prove that a fusion reactor can be built which produces more power than it consumes.

It is called the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) and it is being built in Europe, in southern France.

The European Union is paying for 45 percent of the material, with the rest being provided by China, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia, and the United States.

"ITER is a very big project, beyond the capacity of any one player to build this on their own," said Arshad.

"This machine is perhaps the most complex machine that humans have tried to build," the British scientist noted.

"In the centre of this device you've got the highest temperatures in the universe and two metres out you've got superconducting magnets with the coldest temperatures in the universe."

Only the international space station and the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) are perhaps comparable in their intricacies, he added.

It has been marred with some delays and revised budgets: earlier this year the EU and its six global partners agreed that the budget will be some €20 billion.

On Monday (13 November), the European Court of Auditors said in a report about 2016 accounts that the money spent on the European team, F4E, was all "legal and regular".

However, the auditors noted that the UK decision to leave the EU and Euratom means that the contribution of the UK to the project will have to be part of the Brexit negotiations.

"This may have a significant effect on the future activities of the F4E Joint Undertaking and the ITER project," they said.

But according to Arshad, the point of no return has passed.

"We've placed big contracts for big equipment. This machine will get built."

Aerial footage of ITER under construction

"This machine will demonstrate the scientific viability, and I think in the fusion community you will find there is a fair amount of confidence that we will succeed on that."

But a commercially viable power plant running on fusion, that is another story.

It will likely have to be even larger than the ITER machine, which will be 30 metres tall and 30 metres wide, and have a weight of around 23,000 tonnes.

"Right now we are moving from physics to engineering problems. Then we have to move from engineering to commercial problems in that last stage," said Arshad.

The ITER machine is expected to be completed by 2025, when experiments can begin, lasting perhaps two decades.

The first reactor that will demonstrate commerical viability will probably not be built before 2050, said Arshad.

But he added that it is not a question of "if", but of "when".

"I think fusion is such a big fuel resource, it is obviously going to be the biggest part of the solution for mankind. Even though this is on a time horizon that most people don't consider."

Does Arshad think he will be living in a retirement home that has power provided by a fusion reactor, this website asked?

"Probably not at that stage. I'm older than you might imagine. I'm 51," he said, laughing.

"Hopefully our children will get to see some fusion power and then it will increase from there."

Animation by the ITER organisation
Commission plugs nuclear fusion funding hole with EU research cash

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.

News in Brief

  1. EU will be exempted from tariffs, says US minister
  2. Malmstroem: EU 'hopes' for US tariffs exemption
  3. Parliament must publish 'trilogue' documents, court says
  4. Italy's centre-right set to share top posts with 5-star movement
  5. Brussels condemns tear gas in Kosovo parliament
  6. Finland pays billionaire €400,000 in EU farm subsidies
  7. 44 leaders sign up for Africa free trade area deal
  8. British 'blue' passports to be made in EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EUobserverStart a Career in EU Media. Apply Now to Become Our Next Sales Associate
  2. EUobserverHiring - Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience - Apply Now!
  3. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  4. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  5. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  7. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  8. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  10. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  11. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  12. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?

Latest News

  1. EU summit takes hard look at Russia
  2. Germany casts doubt on Austrian intelligence sharing
  3. EU leaders set for 'stormy debate' on digital tax at summit
  4. EU praises Turkey on migrant deal despite Greek misery
  5. Judicial reforms 'restore balance', Poland tells EU
  6. Whistleblower fears for life as US arrests Malta bank chair
  7. Behind the scenes at Monday's EU talks on Russia
  8. US yet to push on Nord Stream 2 sanctions

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  2. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  3. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  4. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  5. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  6. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  7. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  8. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  9. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementCondemns Facebook for Actively Promoting Anti-Macedonian Racism
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal Seed Vault: Gene Banks Gather to Celebrate 1 Million Seed Collections