Posted on: 3rd July 2005

“The two leaders emphasized the potential importance of the work aimed at utilizing controlled thermonuclear fusion for peaceful purposes and, in this connection, advocated the widest practicable development of international cooperation in obtaining this source of energy, which is essentially inexhaustible, for the benefit for all mankind.”

Joint Soviet-United States Statement at the Summit Meeting (Reagan – Gorbachev) in Geneva, November 21, 1985.

picture of Evgeny P. Velikhov

Evgeny P. Velikhov

The brief statement above is considered as marking the birth of ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor project. Potential joint research into fusion energy played an ice-breaking role at the first Summit of President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev, after several years of difficulties between the two super-powers. The same common standpoint on fusion was also declared two months earlier, in September 1985, during the meeting of Gorbachev with the French President Mitterand. Following the two summits, in December 1985 the importance of fusion development found general acceptance in the United Nations General Assembly and since then, other countries decided to participate. Behind the initiative to promote fusion on an international scale was Academician Evgeny P. Velikhov, the then Deputy Director of the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow and a close advisor to Gorbachev (see e.g. interview in the March 2005 issue of the IAEA ITER Newsletter).

The success of the initiative led to the signing of the ITER agreement between the United States, the Soviet Union, the European Community and Japan in 1987, which first allowed for limited “Conceptual Design Activities” (CDA). Successful completion of the CDA phase, together with major changes on the political scene, enabled the ITER collaboration to progress to a new level of detailed “Engineering Design Activities” (EDA). The key ITER EDA agreement was signed by the four parties on July 21, 1992. Based on this agreement, about 170 scientists and engineers worked on ITER in three joint design teams based in Naka (Japan), San Diego (USA) and Garching (Germany). In 1998, a detailed Final Design Report was published by IAEA. In parallel, seven large R&D projects were launched, aimed at validating key aspects of the ITER Design . Following the withdrawal of the USA from the project, and some scepticism concerning the project exaggerated ambitions, a less ambitious goal was set for ITER, with a view to reducing costs. The new design was completed in July 2001 and subsequently developed in “Coordinated Technical Activities” (CTA) phase. In 2004, China and South Korea entered into the global collaboration on ITER, and USA rejoined the project, giving it a very high national priority. Nowadays, ITER collaboration is encompassed in the “Interim Transitional Arrangements” (ITA), until the imminent start of the Construction phase.

The ITER design is remarkably similar to that of JET, but double in linear dimensions (to increase plasma confinement) and fully superconductive (to allow for long pulses). Indeed, the ITER design is to a large degree based on the results of European endeavour in fusion and of joint research at JET in particular.

Picture of the Month

picture of signing the ITER EDA agreement

Representatives of Russian Federation, Japan, European Union and United States of America signing the ITER EDA agreement under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Washington on 21st July 1992. From left to right (seated): Professor Viktor Mikhailov, Minister of the Russian Federation for Atomic Energy, Minister Hiroshi Hirabayshi, Deputy Chief of Mission in the Embassy of Japan, Ambassador Andreas van Agt, Head of the Delegation of the Commission of the European Communities to the U.S.A, U.S. Secretary of Energy James D. Watkins. From left to right (standing) Akihiro Aoki, First Secretary, Embassy of Japan, Helen Donaghue, European Union, Washington Office, Michael Roberts, U.S. Department of Energy, Anatoliy A. Shurygin, First Secretary, Embassy of the Russian Federation.