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Posted October 19th 2016
This collaboration is unique: On the 21st of November 2006, government representatives of China, the European Union (plus Switzerland), the Republic of India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, and the United States of America officially signed the agreement to build an experiment which is designed to prove the scientific and technological feasibility of sustained fusion power generation.
Although the idea stems from the Cold War, it officially gave birth to the construction of ITER, which means “the way” in Latin. According to a recent speech given by ITER’s Director-General Bernard Bigot in Prague, ITER expects to produce its first plasma in 2025.
Seven Members, one goal: The ITER Organization
The ITER Organization comprises a governing body, the ITER Council, and an executive body led by the Director-General. It involves participants from the abovementioned seven ITER member countries. The ITER Council, which normally meets twice a year, represents the principal organ of the organisation responsible for the promotion, overall direction and supervision of the activities of the executive body. For example, it appoints the Director-General and thesenior staff.The ITER Council approves the overall schedule and associated cost of the project. It monitors the activities of the ITER Organization and approves its annual budget. It also decides on the participation of additional states or international organisations. The ITER Organization in itself must ensure to promote the cooperation among its Members and the best exploitation of its facilities.
Connecting with the industry
Each member has set up a Domestic Agency to provide their contribution to ITER by working together with their domestic industry and research organisations to develop and manufacture high technology components. This is an important aspect of the organisation because the ITER members pitch into the project by delivering components, equipment, materials, buildings or systems. In the ITER world these are the so-called “in-kind” procurements. Since the beginning of the process, the ITER Domestic Agencies have signed more than 1,800 contracts for the design or fabrication of components. While the scientific installationis set in only one place, the production of the ITER facilities involves almost the whole world.
Sharing the costs and benefits
ITER’s administrative set-up should also enable the controlling overall project costs. Europe, which is treated as a single member of the ITER Organization although it represents 28 countries plus Switzerland, is responsible for the largest portion of construction costs (45.6 percent); the remainder is shared equally by China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the US (9.1 percent each). The members, by contributing a portion of the project’s amount, increase their scientific, technological and industrial knowledge in the fusion field. Indeed, the experimental results and intellectual
property generated during the operation phase are shared between them.
Europe, as host of the ITER project and with plenty of involved nations, needs a particular Domestic Agency to connect ITER’s world to the European industry. Europe’s Domestic Agency even has its own name: Fusion For Energy (F4E).
This body – formally known as the European Joint Undertaking for ITER and the Development of Fusion Energy – was established in 2007 and is located in Barcelona, Spain.
F4E has 400 members of staff and is formed by Euratom (represented by the European Commission), the 28 Member States of the European Union and Switzerland. Each member state has a seat in the Governing Board, the main body which supervises, for example the nomination of the director, the approval of F4E’s organisational structure or the regulation of the financial funds, which are derived, for the most part, from the European Community budget.
The Governing Board meets at least twice per year. F4E supervises the preparation of ITER’s construction site in Cadarache in France. The agency is also involved in the Broader Approach (BA) with Japan and in the DEMO Project, the first demonstrational fusion power plant.
ITER – ten years after the kick-off
After four years of work to prepare the foundations the construction of the Tokamak Complex Buildings only began in 2014. At the meeting of the ITER Council in June 2016, almost ten years after signing the agreement, the ITER Organization presented a modified project schedule and renewed milestones. The costs of the ITER project have grown considerably. With ITER’s new plan estimating additional costs of about five billion euros, most of its members will need to acquire renewed approval from their budgetary authorities.
ITER’s costs depends on many constantly changing factors such as the members’ currencies, labour and material costs. So it is difficult to estimate the exact amount. The European Union has prized its global monetary contribution at almost seven billion euros.
Before the recently announced delay in ITER’s schedule the Europeanevaluation had calculated the sum of the outlay for the ITER construction for the seven Members to approximately 13 billion euros, if all manufacturing was carried out in Europe. This cost will be shared over the course of ten years by the 35 countries are contributing to ITER.
ITER on its troubled way
The project was originally due to be completed in ten years at a cost of five billion euros, but it is behind due to its complexity. Though the foundations have been laid, the construction of ITER has been delayed, in part by the rather complicated way in which contracts are dealt with. The Domestic Agencies, indeed, often have trouble completing and signing the design contracts with industrial partners because the technical and commercial negotiations are long and difficult.
Since the appointment of Bernard Bigot in March 2015, things are changing for the better. Eight months after his inauguration, Bernard Bigot’s team had presented a revised timetable for the project. The Director-General affirms with certainty that the 2025 deadline is technically achievable, and says that partner countries should do everything they can to meet that deadline.
The ITER spirit
The ITER Project, a globe-spanning participation of 35 nations, is the largest international collaboration in the scientific field ever set up, and the world’s greatest scientific project for energy research. Taken together, the ITER members represent three continents, over 40 languages, half of the world’s population and 85 percent of the global gross domestic product. With the exception of the United Nations there is no other organization that includes such a diversity of languages, origins and cultures.
English, the official working language of the ITER Organization, is the native language of just 15 percent of the staff. Multiculturalism is ITER’s additional asset. In this way, the people involved in the organisation can be enriched not only by newly acquired scientific knowledge but also by the different cultures encountered.
I am a university student and I am in my second year of a bachelor degree in Chemical and Materials Engineering. I wanted to partake in Fusion in Europe to experience an international collaboration for myself. I chose ITER as a topic to support the diffusion of this unique fusion project. Thanks to the opportunity at Fusion in Europe,I was able to combine my passions for science and writing.
Elena Bulfone (20) from Italy is currently based at: Padua, Italy (Picture: private)
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