News FocusFusion

ITER Blueprints Near Completion, But Financial Hurdles Lie Ahead

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Science  13 Nov 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5955, pp. 932-933
DOI: 10.1126/science.326.5955.932

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Inside the headquarters of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, researchers are working feverishly toward one of the project's early milestones: completion of the Project Baseline, a complete description of the machine's scope, design, construction schedule, and cost. This set of documents, which runs to thousands of pages, will be presented for approval on 18 November to the ITER Council, representing the project's seven international partners: China, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia, and the United States. The meeting will be a turning point for the project. From the point of view of the project's paymasters, one part of the baseline will be subject to special scrutiny: the cost. ITER seeks to demonstrate that nuclear fusion—the power source of the sun and stars—can be tamed on Earth to generate electricity. In the 3 years since the partners formally agreed to work together on the project, its estimated cost has ballooned. Earlier underestimates, rising construction costs, and design and schedule changes aimed at reducing risks have landed the partners with bills substantially higher than they were expecting. Although all appear committed to the project, tough discussion is likely at this month's council meeting.