The international ITER project for fusion: Why?

A cut-away view of the ITER Tokamak, revealing the donut-shaped plasma inside of the vacuum vessel. The science going on at ITER – and all around the world in support of ITER – will benefit all of mankind.

ITER is a large-scale scientific experiment that aims to demonstrate that it is possible to produce commercial energy from fusion.

 (Click to view larger version...)

The Q in the formula on the right symbolizes the ratio of fusion power to input power. Q ≥ 10 represents the scientific goal of the ITER project: to deliver ten times the power it consumes. From 50 MW of input power, the ITER machine is designed to produce 500 MW of fusion power – the first of all fusion experiments to produce net energy.


The ITER Story

“Given the nature and magnitude of the challenge, national action alone is insufficient. No nation can address this challenge on its own. No region can insulate itself from these climate changes.”

Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, in his opening address to the High-Level Event on Climate Change, 24 September, 2007.

Fossil fuels were the energy source that shaped 19th and 20th century civilization. But burning coal, oil and gas has proved highly damaging to our environment. Carbon dioxide emissions, greenhouse effect gases, and fumes all contribute to the disruption in the balance of our planet’s climate.

Global energy consumption is set to triple by the end of the century. And yet supplies of fossil fuels are depleting and the environmental consequences of their exploitation are serious. Two questions loom over humanity today: how will we supply all this new energy, and how can we do so without adding dangerously to atmospheric greenhouse gases?

No single nation can face these challenges alone.

International Collaboration for a New Source of Energy

US President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev of the Soviet Union agreeing to pursue an international effort to develop fusion energy for the benefit of all mankind. Geneva, 1985. (Click to view larger version...)

US President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev of the Soviet Union agreeing to pursue an international effort to develop fusion energy for the benefit of all mankind. Geneva, 1985.

Twenty-five years ago, a group of industrial nations agreed on a project to develop a new, cleaner, sustainable source of energy.

At the Geneva Superpower Summit in November 1985, following discussions with President Mitterand of France and Prime Minister Thatcher of the United Kingdom, General Secretary Gorbachev of the former Soviet Union proposed to U.S. President Reagan an international project aimed at developing fusion energy for peaceful purposes.

The ITER project was born.  The initial signatories: the former Soviet Union, the USA, the European Union (via EURATOM) and Japan, were joined by the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of Korea in 2003, and by India in 2005. Together, these seven nations represent over half of the world’s population.

In ITER, the world has now joined forces to establish one of the largest and most ambitious international science projects ever conducted. ITER, which means “the way” in Latin, will require unparalleled levels of international scientific collaboration. Key plant components, for example, will be provided to the ITER Organization through in-kind contributions from the seven Members. Each Member has set up a domestic agency, employing staff to manage procurements for its in-kind contributions.  The ITER Members have agreed to share every aspect of the project: science, procurements, finance, staffing … with the aim that in the long run each Member will have the know-how to produce its own fusion energy plant.

Selecting a location for ITER was a long process that was finally concluded in 2005. In Moscow, on June 28, high representatives of the ITER Members unanimously agreed on the site proposed by the European Union – the ITER installation would be built at Cadarache, near Aix-en-Provence in Southern France.

ITER Agreement is signed

Elysée Palace, Paris, France on November 21, 2006. (Click to view larger version...)

Elysée Palace, Paris, France on November 21, 2006.

The ITER Agreement was officially signed at the Elysée Palace in Paris on 21 November 2006 by Ministers from the seven ITER Members. In a ceremony hosted by French President Jacques Chirac and the President of the European Commission M. José Manuel Durao Barroso, this Agreement established a legal international entity to be responsible for construction, operation, and decommissioning of ITER.

A “Broader Approach” agreement for complementary research and development was signed in February 2007 between the European Atomic Energy Community (known by its initials EURATOM) and the Japanese government. It established a framework for Japan to conduct research and development in support of ITER over a period of ten years. Within the Broader Approach three projects were set into motion that focus on the following areas: materials testing, advanced plasma experimentation and simulation, and the establishment of a design team to prepare for DEMO, the demonstration power plant which will be the next step after ITER. The Broader Approach projects carry great importance for the advancement of fusion energy and will complement the global efforts on realizing ITER.

On 24 October 2007, following ratification by all Members, the ITER Agreement entered into force and officially established the ITER Organization.


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