The ITER (International Thermonuclear Reactor) nuclear fusion cooperation agreement might expand to eight following European Commissioner for science and research Janez Potočnik’s visit to Brazil last week.
ITER’s goal is to channel the knowledge and experience in fusion research of all participating countries into one joint research centre at Caradache in southern France, with the aim of harnessing affordable energy from the process.
As the agreement between the European Union, Japan, the US, China, South Korea, Russia and India comes into force this week, Potocnik is talking to Brazilian ministers and officials in Brasilia about their own well developed nuclear fusion activities, Potočnik’s spokeswoman, Antonia Mochan, said last week.
“Nuclear fusion is certainly one area where Brazil and the ITER members can cooperate more intensively,” she said. Initially this might take the form of a bilateral research agreement but the result could be that Brazil joins the ITER fold, she added.
With growing instability in the oil rich Middle East and amid ever louder warnings about the harm fossil fuels are causing the world's environment, efforts to cooperate to find a cheap, safe alternative energy source are being intensified. Nuclear fusion is seen as cleaner and safer than nuclear fission because it produces no nuclear waste.
However, no single country's fusion programmes have succeeded in extracting energy efficiently yet.
Canada, Mexico and Kazakhstan may also join ITER, Yevgeny Velikhov, president of Russia’s Kurchatov Institute Research Center, said last year. In order to join prospective members must contribute around 10 per cent of the project's estimated €1 billion start-up costs. The European Union has agreed to cover 40 per cent of the cost, with the remaining 60 per cent expected to come from the other six existing ITER members.
Work has begun to clear the site at Caradache in preparation for the new fusion facility, Mochan said. The existing facility at the site run by the French government continues to operate, she added.
The seven ITER members last year approved a top management structure for the joint program. This included the appointment of Valery Chuyanov as director general of Fusion Science and Technology. Chuyanov has headed the Garching Joint Work Site, a fusion research facility located at the Max Planck Institute’s campus in Garching near Munich in Germany since 1999.