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scientists react to ITER international nuclear fusion project agreement

Ministers from China, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the US have signed an agreement to establish the international organisation that will implement the Iter (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) fusion energy project.

Miles Seaman, Institution of Chemical Engineers, Sustainability Subject Group Chairman, said:

“There are undoubtedly some major technological challenges to providing fusion power reliably and continuously. But it can and has been done, albeit in very short bursts.

“Integrating fusion with an energy capture medium (such as hydrogen) could provide the breakthrough to almost unlimited sustainable energy.

“What is required now is a commitment similar to that shown by President Kennedy and NASA in 1962 to putting a man on the moon. At that time, many scientific commentators dismissed the idea as a pipedream that would take a century to achieve – if at all. Yet within a decade, Neil Armstrong was taking a giant leap for mankind.

“The potential exists to deliver power from nuclear fusion within a generation, but another giant leap will be required. The €10bn budget for ITER is a start but it’s nothing like enough.

“Sir Nicholas Stern has indicated that one percent of global GDP will need to be deployed to arrest climate change and mitigate the effects of Global warming. A substantial proportion of that spend should be directed towards the development of fusion power.”

Professor Jim Skea, Research Director at the UK Energy Research Centre, said:

“Nuclear fusion could offer one of the biggest prizes in energy – a secure, low carbon source of electricity without resource constraints. But it will also require a massive R&D investment and there is some risk that it will not pay off.

“An initiative on the scale of the ITER experiment is needed to test the viability of the fusion option over the next few decades while maintaining the other technology options needed in the interim.”

Dr Paul Howarth, Director of Research at the Dalton Nuclear Institute, University of Manchester, said:

“The signing of the ITER agreement is very welcome and very timely. This follows years of negotiations and I’m delighted the project will be going ahead.

“Given the massive energy challenges we face over the 21st Century, fusion energy offers a clear means of solving this challenge in a sustainable manner.

“Great progress has been made on fusion technology over the past few decades, especially at the JET facility located in Oxfordshire. However it is now time to move the technology forward, scale up the size of the experiment and investigate fusion energy conditions more likely to found in a commercial reactor.

“Such a reactor is still a few decades away but reaching that goal is fully dependent on the ITER project.”

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