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EU: Union 'Cautiously Optimistic' About Landing World's First Fusion Reactor

A consortium of major industrial nations has not been able to agree on where to build the world's first nuclear fusion reactor, but the European Union is making it clear that one will be built in France, in any case. EU officials say they are "cautiously optimistic" that Japan will withdraw a rival candidacy for the $12 billion project. But they say the EU will go ahead regardless and build such a facility.

Brussels, 10 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union has made up its mind.

No matter what the cost, the bloc says it will build its own thermonuclear reactor in southern France, in an area called Cadarache.

A consortium comprising the EU, the United States, Russia, Japan, China, and South Korea has long failed to agree on a common site for the reactor. Negotiations began in 2001 to determine where the reactor would be built, how it would be paid for, and how it would be managed and operated. Canada, France, Spain, and Japan offered sites. Two candidates now remain. The French site is supported by China and Russia, while a site in Japan is favored by the United States and South Korea.

Following deadlocked talks in Vienna, Flavio Fabbi, a European Commission spokesman, said in Brussels today that the EU feels it is gaining the upper hand. "We have reason to say that the Japanese have not flatly refused this position, although not endorsing it openly," Fabbi said. "And other delegations that have been supporting the Japanese candidate site have kept [to] similar lines. That's cause for some optimism."

But Fabbi admitted there is still no agreement. Some media outlets today quoted Japanese officials as rejecting reports that Tokyo is about to concede its site at Rokkashomura.

The project is known as ITER, which stands for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor.

Fabbi said the EU has given itself until 26 November to make a formal announcement. He said the EU will not give up its ambition of building a reactor at Cadarache. "Europeans have never accepted the idea that Rokkashomura should be the site where ITER will be built," he said. "On the [other hand], the Japanese up until now have also said exactly the contrary, saying, 'Let's negotiate and find an agreement,' but always bearing in mind that Rokkashomura has to be the final site."

But Fabbi added that what makes the EU "cautiously optimistic" is the fact that, while the Cadarache site has not been accepted, it has "not been totally rejected, either."
Either Japan and its supporters agree "in a reasonable time frame" to support the EU site, or the bloc will go ahead "with the maximum possible number of partners."

Fabbi said he cannot reveal sensitive details of the talks, which are continuing. But he did indicate that the EU is offering Japan concessions in other fields in exchange for dropping its site from consideration, including wide-ranging research and development cooperation. Fabbi said the EU has made a "reasonable offer."

Another EU diplomat said the bloc will "in one way or another find a way ahead." This means, he said, that either Japan and its supporters agree "in a reasonable time frame" to support the EU site, or the bloc will go ahead "with the maximum possible number of partners."

Scientists believe that nuclear fusion may prove to be the ultimate solution to world energy needs. Unlike nuclear fission, which releases energy by splitting atoms, fusion forces atoms together and releases vast energy safely and without troublesome by-products like radiation and nuclear waste. Fusion is the energy that powers the sun and the stars.