30 November 2006 Edition
Feature: Irish Government signs accord to build nuclear fusion facility in France
In a nuclear fusion test at Tore Supra in Cadarache, scientists' tests produced fusion lasting six minutes in a miniature ITER facility. Even though they were successful on one level, the actual amount of energy used to trigger the reaction exceeded the amount of energy produced in the end. There will be no proof that nuclear fusion will work commercially until at least 2020 and the construction of the actual power plants will not begin until at least 2050, with perhaps some results appearing around 2080. Unforeseen events in social, political and financial realms could extend these dates even further.
It seems a rather large and costly gamble given the _10 billion price-tag. It could even been be described as an exercise in wastefulness by those who would rather put all their eggs in the nuclear fusion basket rather than try and investigate sustainable energy resources and urge people to be sensible about their energy use.
Numerous scientists doubt the possibility of it ever working and economists are questioning the fiscal sense in spending billions on something that might never work while they could be evaluating real alternative solutions to the problems presented by our dwindling energy supplies. Nuclear energy will not tackle climate change or guarantee energy supply.
The ITER project has come under fire from many environmental campaigns groups such as Greenpeace and Sortir du Nucléaire (an umbrella organisation of about 700 anti-nuclear groups).
"Pursuing nuclear fusion and the ITER project is madness," said Bridget Woodman of Greenpeace. "Nuclear fusion has all the problems of nuclear power, including producing nuclear waste and the risks of a nuclear accident."
Her Greenpeace International colleague Jan Vande Putte has said: "Governments should not waste our money on a dangerous toy which will never deliver any useful energy. Instead, they should invest in renewable energy which is abundantly available, not in 2080 but today". Greenpeace point out that the nuclear industry is now presenting itself as a solution to climate-change. But far from being a solution, the nuclear option stalls real action to combat dangerous climate change. In promoting the nuclear option it stalls real action to combat dangerous climate change. It is taking away the money for real solutions that are ready and economically available on a large scale, such as wind energy.
Fusion energy -- if it ever operates -- will create a serious waste problem, will emit large amounts of radioactive material and could be used to produce materials for nuclear weapons. A whole new set of nuclear risks would thus be created. This is a dangerous possibility considering the huge support that this has generated across Europe. France are happy because it will provide a huge boost to the Marseilles area's economy, providing thousands of jobs in the construction of the reactor which will in turn boost the French economy in general. For Chirac, this will be a great success after the poor employment records and France's rejection of the EU constitution.
It is surprising that even the British government were so happy to have it located in Cadarache instead of Cumbria considering the row they had over the Olympic Games with Lord Sainsbury, the British science Minister saying he was "delighted" that it was to be located in France even though the project is expected to generate so much employment and extra revenue for the locality. Then again, the British are happy to locate it in France because Cadarache is located above an earth-quake fault-line. In 1995 the Directorate for the Safety of Nuclear Installations in France held a meeting with the plants operators asking for the MOX fuel fabrication facility to be shut down which obviously never happened. Scientific research has shown that seismic activity has gone up in the area since 1993 and yet the EU and other big players in this project -- South Korea, Japan, Russia and Canada are still supporting its location in Cadarache. Although the last activity on this geographical fault line was 1913 it may have been more pertinent to locate the ITER reactor somewhere else anyway.
At the end of the day, the ITER project seems rather farcical. A _10 billion project, that will possibly span the course of 80 years, will produce at least some volume of radioactive material, is situated on an earthquake fault line and might not even produce any more energy than it actually consumes; fails logic. It is being heralded as a "different kind of nuclear future", when in actual fact it is nothing more than an cavalier experiment in frittering away money that would have been better spent on something that might actually work.