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FPN04-12

ITER Saga Continues

February 27, 2004

Representatives of the six ITER Parties (European Union, Japan, China, Russia, South Korea and the United States), meeting in Vienna February 21 at the "vice ministerial" level, once again could not reach a consensus on where to locate the proposed International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). This meeting had the benefit of extensive responses from the EU and Japan to thirty-some technical questions posed to them following the ministerial meeting December 20, 2003, and two meetings of technical representatives in January that resulted in three proposed compromise solutions.

The official communique from the February 21 meeting states:"The delegations recognised the extensive work done following the Ministerial Meeting for ITER that took place on 20th December 2003. The delegations agreed to convene a meeting of experts in early March (subsequently scheduled for March 12-13 in Vienna) for a joint appreciation in common terms of a number of key topics, in order to bring the further technical analysis to completion. ITER Parties will continue their discussions including further exploration of a broader project approach to fusion power. All delegations reaffirmed their commitment to the consensual process towards joint implementation of ITER."

Privately, sources close to the negotiations indicated that it was felt that both the European Union and Japan had adequately answered the technical questions posed to them previously. Russia and China reportedly continued to favor the European site, while South Korea and the United States continued to favor the site in Japan.

A senior Japanese official who attended the February 21 meeting is quoted as saying "The situation is still in deadlock, and much to our regret, no progress could be made. As in the past, the countries taking part in the decision did not manage to incline clearly in favour of one of the two sites."

Though not officially confirmed, the three compromises under discussion are reported to be: (1) creating a remote facility for simulation and data analysis, (2) selecting and upgrading an existing facility to conduct ITER-related experiments, and (3) creating a new fusion engineering center aimed at fusion power plant technologies.

Reportedly, both the European Union and Japan support providing the other with one of these compromise facilities, but both are standing firm on their desire to host the ITER facility itself.