This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

November 22, 2006

DOE Joins the EU and Five Nations in a Fusion Energy Agreement

An international agreement signed on November 21st will lead to the construction of a large-scale fusion reactor called "ITER" in Cadarache, France, by 2015. DOE joined with representatives from the European Union, China, India, the Republic of Korea, and the Russian Federation to sign the agreement, which commits the United States to providing $1.122 billion for the construction phase. Since that amount is 9.09 percent of the total cost of the project, the project will apparently cost $12.3 billion. Eighty percent of the U.S. contribution will be components for the construction of ITER, and 20 percent will be cash to help start up the facility. DOE will also contribute 13 percent of the operating costs. According to Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., which is helping to design the facility, construction will begin in early 2007. See the press releases from DOE and Jacobs Engineering.

Unlike today's nuclear power plants, which rely on the fission of uranium to produce power, fusion reactors will generate power by fusing two light nuclei together, the same process that powers the sun. The ITER fusion reactor is meant to be the mid-way step between research experiments and the first commercial fusion reactor. ITER will use a reactor design called a tokomak, in which magnetic fields contain a plasma heated to 100 million degrees Celsius, recreating the conditions within the sun. The facility will be capable of producing 500 megawatts of thermal energy from fusion power for periods of at least 400 seconds. ITER is designed to maintain a controlled plasma in which fusion is occurring (a "burning" plasma) and will be a net energy producer, generating ten times more energy than the energy required to maintain the burning plasma. See the ITER and DOE Web sites.

China has also fired up its first experimental tokomak, a smaller device on the scale of experimental tokomaks in the United States and Europe. The Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokomak (EAST) produced its first hot plasma in late September, and should help China to provide science contributions to the ITER project. See the announcements from the Chinese Academy of Sciences on the start up and a follow-up review.