ITER Nuclear Megaproject in Full Swing as Costs Swell

ITER Nuclear Megaproject in Full Swing as Costs SwellITER Nuclear Megaproject in Full Swing as Costs Swell

Construction of an experimental nuclear fusion reactor in southern France is in full swing as the cost estimate has ballooned to nearly four times the original estimate, but the ITER project's new head says new forecasts are realistic.

The seven partners in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) - Europe, United States, China, India, Japan, Russia and South Korea - launched the project 10 years ago with a €5 billion ($5.6 billion) cost estimate and plan to heat the first plasma by 2020 and achieve full fusion by 2023. By 2011, the budget forecast had swollen to about €16 billion, Reuters reported.

In May, new ITER chief Bernard Bigot - former head of French nuclear state agency CEA - told a French newspaper ITER would be delayed by more than a decade and incur another €4 billion of cost overruns, with the first test of its super-heated plasma not before 2025 and its first full-power fusion not before 2035.

Unlike existing fission reactors, which produce energy by splitting atoms, ITER would generate power by combining atoms in a process similar to the nuclear fusion that produces the energy of the sun. Scientists hope that ITER would realize the age-old dream of harnessing an endless supply of sustainable power.

"We expect first plasma in December 2025 and full power by 2035. For sure, that schedule is still challenging but it is the best technically achievable schedule, taking into account the financial constraints," Bigot told reporters during a visit to the ITER site in rural Cadarache.

Bigot estimates the overall cost until commissioning will be of the order of €18 billion. Compared to the 2010 baseline, the cost increase is about €4 billion, he said.

"For the first time, we have a reliable estimate ... In the past there was no realistic schedule, no detailed appreciation of the cost ... It was much underestimated," said Bigot, who succeeded Japan's Osamu Motojima as ITER head early last year.

He said that giving a precise estimate is difficult as partner countries contribute most of their shares in the project in kind, by producing components.

Add new comment

Read our comment policy before posting your viewpoints