Official Journal of the European Union

C 302/27

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Fusion energy’

(2004/C 302/07)

On 29 January 2004, the European Economic and Social Committee, acting under Rule 29(2) of its Rules of Procedure, decided to draw up an opinion on ‘Fusion energy’.

The Section for Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 10 June 2004. The rapporteur was Mr Wolf.

At its 410th plenary session of 30 June and 1 July 2004 (meeting of 30 June), the Committee adopted the following opinion by 141 votes in favour, with nine abstentions:

This opinion supplements earlier Committee opinions on energy and research policy. It looks at the development of nuclear fusion reactors and their expected safety and environmental benefits. It does that against the backdrop of the global energy issue. The R&D work required is briefly outlined and assessed. The opinion also considers the European position in the current negotiations on the siting of ITER.

Table of contents:


The energy issue


Nuclear energy — nuclear fission and nuclear fusion


Developments to date


Fusion power plant: the way ahead


Siting ITER


Summary and the Committee's recommendations

1.   The energy issue


Usable energy (1) is the mainstay of our contemporary way of life and culture. Its ready availability opened the door to our present-day standard of living. Unprecedented strides have been made in the major and emerging industrial countries in terms of life expectancy, food supply, overall prosperity and personal freedom. Insufficient energy supply would jeopardise these achievements.


The need for a secure, inexpensive, environmentally sound and sustainable supply of usable energy is at the heart of the Lisbon, Gothenburg and Barcelona European Council decisions. EU energy policy is thus pursuing three closely related and equally important objectives, namely to safeguard and enhance (1) competitiveness, (2) security of supply and (3) the environment – all of them linked by the common thread of sustainable development.


There are serious obstacles to achieving these objectives, however, as the Committee has made clear in a number of opinions. It has addressed the resultant energy question on a number of occasions, considering various facets of the issue and exploring potential solutions (2). Its opinions on the Commission Green Paper Towards a European strategy for the security of energy supply (3) and on Research needs for a safe and sustainable energy supply (4) are worthy of special mention.


In these opinions, the Committee stressed that supplying and using energy puts a strain on the environment, presents risks, depletes resources and involves the problem of external dependence and imponderables. The Committee also made the point that the most important measure for reducing the risks associated with the security of energy supply — and other risks – is to ensure the most diverse and balanced possible use of all types and forms of energy, including all efforts to save energy and use it rationally. The pros and cons of the various individual processes are also briefly outlined, but, for lack of space, these cannot not be repeated here (5).


In technical terms, however, none of the potential future energy supply options and technologies is perfect. None is wholly free of damaging environmental impacts. None is sufficient to cover all needs, and it is difficult to adequately gauge their long-term potential. Nor, therefore, can a forward-looking, responsible European energy policy bank on being able to secure an adequate energy supply along the lines of the objectives set out above by using only a small number of energy sources. This is also true given the need to save energy and use it rationally.


Thus, no secure, long-term, environmentally sound and economically viable energy supply exists — either in Europe or elsewhere in the world (6). The key to potential solutions can lie only in further intensive research and development. Energy research (7) is the strategic element and essential mainstay of any long-term, successful energy policy. In the opinion referred to, the Committee also recommended a consistent European energy research programme, key elements of which are admittedly already contained in the Sixth Framework Programme for research and development and the Euratom research and training programme, but with significantly increased R&D investment.


The Committee has also made the point that, given the slow pace of change in the energy industry, the fact that climate gas emissions are a global, not a regional issue, and the expectation that the problem will further worsen in the second half of the century, the approach to the energy issue should be more global in scale and cover a substantially longer time period.


The problems of finite resources and emissions (greenhouse gases) are compounded by the forecast two- if not three-fold increase in global energy requirements by 2060 as the result of population growth and the need for less developed countries to catch up. Any strategy and prospects for development must therefore look beyond that timeframe.


In its recent Opinion on the sustainable use of natural resources, the Committee also reiterated the point that any sustainable development strategy must cover a considerably longer timeframe.


As the Committee has also noted, these points are not, however, adequately reflected in either public perceptions or in open debate. Rather, there is a broad range of opinions at the extremes respectively over- or under-estimating the risks and opportunities involved. At one extreme, some people take the view that there is no energy problem at all, that things have always worked out so far and that new reserves could be developed should the need arise (for decades we have been hearing predictions of forest dieback and claims that oil and gas stocks are set to run out in just 40 years). At the other end of the spectrum is the belief that renewables could easily meet the world's entire energy needs if only all research funding were channelled into them and society adapted accordingly.


There is therefore still no sufficiently consistent global energy policy, and even within the EU Member States, there are considerable differences of approach to the energy issue.

2.   Nuclear energy — nuclear fission and nuclear fusion


For a given mass of fuel, around a million times more energy is released through the fission of very heavy atomic nuclei and the fusion of very light atomic nuclei than through chemical processes.


Around 1928 it was discovered that nuclear fusion was the hitherto unexplained energy source powering the sun and most of the stars. Through the sun's rays, therefore, fusion energy is also the main energy source for life on earth — the energy which makes plants grow and which is locked up in fossil fuels and renewable energies.


As soon as nuclear fission was discovered in 1938 — and as soon as the potential of its peaceful application as a huge terrestrial energy resource was recognised — a promising and dynamic development was set in motion for its exploitation.


In the course of that development, the objectives of nuclear fission were achieved astoundingly quickly; the hope of exploiting nuclear fusion as a virtually infinite terrestrial energy resource, however, still remains to be realised.


The practical use of both kinds of nuclear energy is intended (i) to generate electricity without emitting greenhouse gases and (ii) to reduce consumption of hydrocarbons (oil and natural gas) — key fuels in the transport sector — which produce less CO2 than coal when combusted and are thus also being increasingly considered — or indeed are already being used — to generate electricity (8).


The processes of nuclear fission and nuclear fusion differ fundamentally in terms of how they work, operating conditions, environmental and safety aspects, raw material reserves and availability, etc. In all these areas nuclear fusion would have conceptual advantages (see points 2.11 et seq.).


Nuclear fission. Nuclear fission has been used for decades to generate energy. Nuclear fission power plants have already done much to prevent greenhouse gas emissions (CO2) and to reduce the dependencies involved in the consumption and import of oil and gas. This was a factor in reviving the nuclear energy debate, especially in the context of moves to cut CO2 emissions and ways and means of achieving this (incentives/penalties). The Committee recently devoted an opinion to this question (9).


Fuel for nuclear fission is provided by isotopes (10) of the particularly heavy elements in the periodic system: thorium, uranium and plutonium. The neutrons released during nuclear fission set off new fission processes in the nuclei of these materials. This produces an energy-yielding chain reaction that needs to be controlled. During this process, radioactive — and in some cases very long-life — fission products and actinides arise that must be kept away from the biosphere for thousands of years. This raises concerns and leads some people to reject nuclear energy use out of hand. Moreover, new fissile substances are also generated – for instance plutonium (from (11)uranium) — which are subject to monitoring as potential nuclear weapons material.


Nuclear fission reactors operate on the basis of a ‘pile’. The nuclear fuel stock — sufficient for a number of years (100 tonnes in a power plant) — is enclosed in the core. Control processes regulate the number of fission reactions needed to secure the desired output. In spite of the advanced technology available to control these processes and to guarantee safety, the sheer quantity of the energy stored heightens these concerns even further. Moreover, considerable amounts of after-heat are also produced, necessitating, for most reactor types, a relatively long and intensive cooling period once the reactor has been shut down to prevent the cladding overheating.


Referring to such concerns, the Committee notes in its recent opinion on this subject (12), that the fourth generation of fission power plant is now under development. These will raise the high passive safety standards of current plants still further.


Nuclear fusion. In terms of the fuel masses employed, nuclear fusion is the most efficient potentially useable energy process on the planet. Fusion reactors are facilities for the controlled generation of fusion processes and the use of the energy thereby released. They operate continuously as power plants generating electricity (13) – mainly baseload electricity. They will be fuelled by heavy hydrogen isotopes (see below). Helium, a harmless noble gas (14) with useful applications, is the ‘ash’ of the fusion reactor.


However, during the fusion reaction, which only takes place when the reaction partners meet each other at very high speeds (15), additional neutrons are released which produce radioactivity in the reactor's wall material (and may change its mechanical properties). For that reason, one of the aims of the relevant R&D programme is to develop material, the radiotoxicity (16) of which will drop to the range of coal ash in between one hundred and, at most, several hundred years. This could, among other things, potentially make it possible to reuse a large part of the materials in question, thereby substantially defusing the question of final storage.


The scientific and technological requirements for generating fusion energy are extremely exacting. The basic — and difficult — task is to heat a gas consisting of hydrogen isotopes (a deuterium-tritium mix) to temperatures of over 100 million degrees (the gas thereby becoming a plasma (17)), so that the colliding nuclei reach speeds high enough to facilitate the desired fusion processes. It is also necessary to hold this plasma together long enough and to extract and use the energy thereby generated.


These processes take place in the fusion reactor's combustion chamber. The energy contained in the few grams of fuel that is injected — if not constantly topped up — is only enough for a few minutes' output, so there can be no undesired nuclear excursions. Moreover, the fact that, if any error is made, the thermonuclear burning process cools and stops (18), is another inherent safety benefit.


Thus, given these inherent safety qualities, the opportunity to drastically cut long-lived radiotoxic waste levels (fusion processes do not involve fission products or any long-lived, particularly hazardous components [actinides]) and the practically limitless availability of raw materials, the use of fusion energy would therefore be a very attractive and important component of future sustainable energy supply, and would thus help resolve current difficulties.


Accordingly, in earlier opinions the Committee made the point that R&D geared towards the use of fusion energy is a key element of future energy policy and a prime example of successful European integration. As such, it must be vigorously promoted in the European R&D framework programmes and the Euratom research and training programmes.

3.   Developments to date


The peaceful use of fusion energy was first mooted almost fifty years ago. At that time some countries already had fusion weapons technology (the hydrogen bomb), and the move towards the peaceful use of fusion appeared very promising, although extremely difficult and protracted.


Two statements from that period which are still quoted today make this particularly clear and typify the tension recognised early on between high expectations and the most intractable physical and technical difficulties. The first is from H. J. Bhabha in his opening speech to the first Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy held in Geneva in 1955: ‘I venture to predict that a method will be found for liberating fusion energy in a controlled manner within the next two decades.’ (19) Conversely, in the first general article on the fusion issue published by the USA (20), R.F. Post wrote: ‘However, the technical problems to be solved seem great indeed. When made aware of these, some physicists would not hesitate to pronounce the problem impossible of solution.’ (21)


Among the many possible approaches put forward at the time were proposals for magnetic confinement, which have now emerged as the most promising means of achieving the required conditions. Coming to that realisation, however, required laborious scientific and technological development and optimisation, marked by obstacles and setbacks. This concerns the tokamak (a Russian acronym for toroidal (22) magnetic chamber), and the stellarator. Both these approaches are variants of a common basic concept which involves confining the hot plasma under the required conditions using appropriately structured ring-shaped magnetic fields.


The pioneering role in this process was played by the European JET project (Joint European Torus), the technical blueprint (23) for which appeared twenty or so years later (24). During this project's experimental phase not only were the required plasma temperatures achieved for the first time, but in the 1990s, using the deuterium-tritium fusion process, it proved possible to release significant amounts of fusion energy (some 20 megajoules per experiment) in a controlled manner. Thus, for a short period, the plasma's fusion energy output almost equalled the heating energy fed into the plasma.


This success was made possible through the synergy of all the resources of the European Community's fusion research programme implemented under Euratom auspices. The network established as part of this programme brought together the various Euratom-associated laboratories in the Member States — with their respective test facilities, their various individual contributions and their involvement in the JET project — and gave them a shared identity. This therefore is an early example of the European research area in practice and a clear demonstration of its effectiveness.


This was, therefore, the first, critical step forward in worldwide fusion research. The physical principle of generating and magnetically confining fusion plasma had been demonstrated.


Advances on this front were also marked by exemplary worldwide cooperation, coordinated by organisations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the International Energy Agency (IEA). European research provided key input. It worked determinedly to catch up — particularly with the USA — and is now recognised to hold the leading position in the field.


Building on an initiative launched seventeen years ago by President Gorbachev and President Reagan — later joined by President Mitterrand — a plan emerged for a joint global project to develop, and, possibly also as a joint project, to build and operate ITER (25) — the first test reactor to provide a net energy gain from the plasma (i.e. where the plasma's power output from fusion processes is considerably higher than the energy fed into the plasma). The purpose of ITER is to demonstrate the technological and scientific feasibility of producing useable fusion energy by means of a burning plasma.


The term ‘burning’ (also known as ‘thermonuclear burning’) describes a process in which the energy released by the fusion process (or more accurately the energy carried by the helium nuclei) plays a major part in keeping the plasma temperature at the extremely high levels required. Experimental findings to date have shown that that can only be achieved using sufficiently large facilities (i.e. similar in size to power plants). ITER was thus designed to an appropriate size.


The programme, therefore, is in a transitional phase between research and development although it is not possible to make a clear-cut distinction between the two concepts. To achieve the ITER targets, it is necessary on the one hand to provide a definitive response to certain physical questions that can only be answered once a fusion plasma has been kept burning for a reasonably long time. On the other hand, some technical building components are also needed to similar specifications and on a similar scale to those that will later be required for an operational reactor (e.g. very large superconductive magnets, a combustion chamber able to withstand the plasma (26), plasma heating units etc.). This therefore is the first step from physics to power plant technology.


The results of the worldwide planning for ITER include design data and comprehensive blueprints, as well as prototypes and tested model components. These results draw on experience and extrapolation from all the experiments conducted to date, starting with JET, the flagship not only of the European but of the worldwide fusion programme.


ITER's linear dimensions will thus be around twice those of JET (mean diameter of the plasma ring: 12 meters, combustion chamber volume: around 1000 m3). The idea is that ITER will generate some 500 MW of fusion power in combustion times of initially at least eight minutes, with a tenfold energy output/input ratio (27) (and a lower output/input ratio during essentially unlimited combustion times).


ITER construction costs are estimated at around EUR 5 billion (28).


In the construction of ITER, most of these costs would accrue to those firms that are awarded the contract to manufacture and fit the various components of the test facility. A significant European contribution to ITER's construction would therefore benefit European industry in terms of innovative capacity and general technological know-how and thus help achieve the Lisbon strategy objectives.


Industry has already benefited in the past from many fusion programme spin-offs (29). This is expected to be a particularly important side benefit of ITER's construction.


During the ITER construction period, European expenditure on the entire fusion programme (i.e. both the Community and the Member States) would be less than 0.2 % of the costs of final energy consumption in Europe.


In the course of its development, the ITER partnership has had various ups and downs (30). Initially, it involved the EU, Japan, Russia and the USA. The USA withdrew about five years ago but rejoined in 2003, while China and Korea also came on board. This partnership has made it possible not only to spread the planning costs among all the major international energy research partners, but also to ensure that the project planning benefits from all available results worldwide.


This has also brought out the importance of the scheme as a global project to resolve a global problem.


The joint construction and operation of ITER would also mean a substantial gain in knowledge and technical skills for all the partner countries concerned (see also section 5), not only as regards this new kind of energy system, but also in terms of overall innovation for cutting-edge technologies.


In terms of technological development, however, it would be a new departure if, across the world, just one facility were to be build in line with ITER objectives, in other words if it were decided to dispense at this stage with any exploration or testing of contending and equally advanced alternatives, as had been done, for instance, in the development of aviation, space exploration and fission reactors.


This cost-cutting move would thus have to be offset by a particularly effective back-up programme which also offered scope for innovative ideas and alternative concepts (31) for reducing development risks. However, these could be studied, initially, on a lesser scale and thus at lower cost.

4.   Fusion power plant: the way ahead


The accumulated results of the ITER project, expected some twenty years after building work starts, will provide basic data for the design and construction of the first electricity-producing fusion demonstration power plant (DEMO). Construction work on DEMO could thus begin in around twenty to twenty-five years.


On the basis of current knowledge, fusion power plants should be designed to incorporate the following features:

baseload electricity provision in block sizes offered by current power plants; also possible hydrogen production;

hourly fuel requirement (32) of, say, a 1 GW block (33) (electric power): approximately 14 g of heavy hydrogen (deuterium) > as a component of around 420 kg of natural water and approximately 21 g of superheavy hydrogen (tritium) > bred from approximately 42 g (6)-Li as a component of some 570 g of natural lithium;

fuel stocks available worldwide and far exceeding requirements over the foreseeable timeframe (34);

hourly ash production of a block of this kind: around 56 g of helium (35);

internal cycle (36) of radioactive tritium, (half-life: 12.5 years) which is bred from lithium in the blanket of the combustion chamber;

neutron-induced radioactivity of the combustion chamber material; depending on the selected material, radiotoxicity levels will drop to the range of coal ash in between one hundred and several hundred years;

no risk of an uncontrolled chain reaction as, like a gas burner, the fuel is introduced from outside and, once switched off, burns off in just a few minutes;

no accident scenarios involving high enough radioactive releases (dust, tritium, etc.) to necessitate evacuation measures extending beyond the confines of the site;

also, relatively limited damage in the event of terrorist attack because of the intrinsic safety characteristics and the low levels of radiotoxic substances that can readily be released;

plant size comparable to that of existing power plants;

cost structure similar to that of existing nuclear power plants: most of the costs arise from construction; fuel supply costs are a virtual non-issue.


To bring DEMO to fruition, it is necessary not only to address key issues such as energy output and processes which limit the combustion time (these issues are to be examined and demonstrated within the ITER framework), and to apply sophisticated procedures which are already available or remain to be developed further for that purpose, but also to press ahead with and consolidate other important technical developments.


These relate mainly to the internal fuel cycle (the breeding and treatment of tritium); power extraction; the capacity of certain materials to withstand plasma load (plasma-wall interaction) and neutron load; repair technology; the optimisation of remote operations and technological solutions for extending the combustion time with a view, ultimately, to achieving a fully continuous burning process. Another particularly important task is to develop appropriate low-activation structural materials – or structural materials that are activated only for short periods. More work must be done on that front, given the need to test and verify such materials over long periods.


It would, however, be a mistake to believe that DEMO marks the final phase of R&D. As the history of technology shows, intensive R&D often gets underway only when the initial prototype is already in place.


The history of technology also shows that initial prototypes of new technologies are often crude, primitive devices compared with later, elegant versions that gradually evolve.


The present-day optimisation of the diesel engine came almost a century after its invention. Fusion power plants too will certainly also need to be improved, optimised and then adapted to the requirements of the time.

5.   The siting of ITER


Two sites — Cadarache (37) in Europe and Rokkasho-mura (38) in Japan — are currently competing at the highest government level to house ITER. The outcome will determine both the financial participation of the various partners involved and the shape of the requisite back-up programme.


Before the USA rejoined the ITER partnership and before China and Korea came on board, there was, realistically speaking, little doubt that ITER would be located in Europe, not least because, as with JET, that would be the best guarantee of its success.


A new state of affairs has now arisen, however, as the USA and Korea currently back the Rokkasho-mura location in Japan, despite the clear and broadly accepted technical advantages of the Cadarache site. If this decision were confirmed, Europe would lose its leading position and be deprived of the fruits of investment made and work done to date – with all that that implies for research and industry.


The Committee therefore notes, welcomes and backs the European Council's decision of 25 and 26 March 2004 in which it reaffirms unanimous support for the European proposal and calls on the Commission ‘to progress negotiations on the ITER project with a view to its rapid commencement at the European candidate site.’

6.   Summary and the Committee's recommendations


The Committee agrees with the Commission that, in the long term, the peaceful use of fusion energy has the potential to play a very important part in resolving questions of energy supply in a sustainable, environmentally sound and competitive way.


This is due to the potential advantages of this technology of the future, i.e.:

There is an infinite supply of deuterium and lithium as fuel resources for the foreseeable future.

There is no generation of ‘climate-change’ gases, fission products or actinides.

The intrinsic safety characteristics prevent any uncontrolled nuclear excursion (39).

The radioactivity of the combustion chamber material may drop to the radiotoxicity of coal ash in between one hundred and, at most, several hundred years; this substantially defuses the question of final storage.

Because of these characteristics and the low levels of highly volatile radiotoxic substances, there would also be only a relatively limited risk of damage in the event of terrorist attack.


The potential of fusion energy particularly complements that of renewables – but with the advantage over wind and solar energy that it is not dependent on the weather, the seasons or the time of the day. That is also true of the relationship – adjusted to suit actual requirements – between centralised and decentralised systems.


In a number of opinions, therefore (40), the Committee has already advocated clear and enhanced promotion of the R&D programme for fusion energy.


The Committee is pleased to note that, thanks to the leadership provided by the European fusion programme and its JET project, the first, critical stage in global fusion research has successfully been completed, i.e. to demonstrate the physical principle of releasing energy from nuclear fusion, thereby laying the foundations for the ITER test reactor in which, for the first time, a burning fusion plasma - with energy output substantially exceeding input - is to be produced and studied.


Thanks, therefore, to many years of R&D - and the requisite investment - it has been possible, through worldwide cooperation, to reach the decision-making stage of planning and policy for the construction and operation of the ITER, which is already approaching power plant dimensions.


The Committee would also stress the leading, pioneering input of the European fusion programme, without which the ITER project would not exist today.


The results of the ITER project will provide basic data for the design and construction of the first electricity-producing fusion demonstration power plant (DEMO). Building work on DEMO could thus begin in around 20 to 25 years.


The Committee backs the Commission in its efforts to prepare Europe strategically so that it can also play a central role in the commercial exploitation phase and thus, even today, increasingly use part of its fusion research programme to look beyond ITER and focus on DEMO.


To develop DEMO, it is essential not only to find answers to key issues to be examined and demonstrated as part of the ITER project, but also to press ahead with other major tasks. Examples include the optimisation of the magnetic configuration; material development (improvements in the case of plasma-induced erosion, neutron damage, decay time of the induced radioactivity); the fuel cycle; energy extraction; driving the plasma current and controlling its internal distribution; efficiency; and component reliability.


The Committee also points out, however, that further such progress will only be attainable through a broad European R&D back-up programme, tying in the Member States and requiring a network of physical and especially technical experiments and large-scale facilities that must be available to back up and complement ITER.


The Committee feels it is vital to keep up the present momentum and, with vigour, commitment and the requisite resources, to rise to a challenge of great scientific and technological complexity that is so important for long-term energy supply. That also involves a serious commitment to carrying out the Lisbon and Gothenburg strategies.


For the future seventh R&D framework programme and the Euratom programme, this means giving energy research as a whole — and the fusion programme in particular — the markedly increased resources they need for continued success. It also means making full use of other ITER financing options.


It also involves ensuring a sufficient supply of physicists and technologists so that an adequate number of European experts are on hand to operate ITER and develop DEMO. The Committee would also point to its recent opinion on this specific issue (41).


It also means that academic institutions and research centres remain part of the network, not only so as to train young scientists and engineers in the specialist disciplines required, but also so that they can use their expertise and knowledge to contribute to the various tasks and, ultimately, also act as a link to civil society.


One key task is to take timely steps to secure the increasingly necessary involvement of European industry in this very varied field of cutting-edge scientific and technological development. In the fusion programme to date, European industry has mainly been involved in developing and supplying highly specialised and extremely sophisticated components – and this experience should be cultivated and maintained. However, as fusion reactors move closer to becoming a practical reality, industry should gradually take on a more independent, pro-active role.


The considerable investments earmarked for industry to build ITER and develop DEMO will both strengthen the economy and, even more importantly, boost expertise and innovation in a technologically most demanding new area. This is already becoming clear from the many spin-offs of the fusion programme to date.


Internationally, Europe faces a multiple challenge. It is vital on the one hand to maintain its leading role in fusion research not only in the face of US dominance in research but also against the growing strength of the three Asian ITER partners. On the other hand, however, it is important as far as possible to maintain and expand the unprecedented international cooperation seen up to now.


The Committee therefore supports the Commission in its intention to take up that challenge, and calls on the Council, the Parliament and the Member States to do the same and not to give up Europe's leading position in this key area of the future. This does however present difficulties.


Before the USA rejoined the ITER partnership and China and Korea came on board, there was, realistically speaking, little doubt that ITER would be located in Europe, not least because, as with JET, that would be the best guarantee of its success.


A new state of affairs has now arisen, however, as the USA and Korea currently back the Rokkasho-mura location in Japan, despite the clear and broadly accepted technical advantages of the Cadarache site. If this decision were confirmed, Europe would lose its leading position and be deprived of the fruits of investment made and work done to date — with all that that implies for research and industry.


The Committee therefore notes, welcomes and backs the European Council's decision of 25 and 26 March 2004 in which it reaffirms unanimous support for the European proposal and calls on the Commission ‘to progress negotiations on the ITER project with a view to its rapid commencement at the European candidate site’.


Summing up and reiterating this point, the Committee calls on the Council, the Parliament and the Commission to launch initiatives and to genuinely exhaust all possibilities — if necessary working out new structural approaches to the international division of labour — to ensure that, whatever happens, ITER is located in Europe, given its key strategic role in the development of a major sustainable energy resource.

Brussels, 30 June 2004.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee


(1)  Energy is not consumed, but merely converted and, in the process, used. That happens through conversion processes such as coal combustion, the conversion of wind energy into electricity, and nuclear fission (conservation of energy; E = mc2). However, the terms ‘energy supply’, ‘energy generation’ and ‘energy consumption’ are also used.

(2)  Promoting renewable energy: Means of action and financing instruments; Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the promotion of cogeneration based on a useful heat demand in the internal energy market; Draft proposal for a Council Directive (Euratom) setting out basic obligations and general principles on the safety of nuclear installations and Draft proposal for a Council Directive (Euratom) on the management of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste. The issues involved in using nuclear power in electricity generation.

(3)  Green Paper: Towards a European strategy for the security of energy supply.

(4)  Research needs for a safe and sustainable energy supply.

(5)  Research needs for a safe and sustainable energy supply, points 2.1.3 et seq.

(6)  The overall problem was foreshadowed by previous oil crises (e.g. in 1973 and 1979) and the current controversy — centred on the trade-off between economy and environment — about the allocation of emissions certificates.

(7)  Point 7.4 of Committee opinion says: ‘The Committee therefore recommends that the Commission draw up an integrated European energy research strategy, from which a comprehensive future European energy research programme will be derived.’

(8)  As a result serious fuel shortages are expected to occur sooner.

(9)  The issues involved in using nuclear power in electricity generation.

(10)  Atoms of the same element, but with different mass (different number of neutrons in the nucleus).

(11)  The issues involved in using nuclear power in electricity generation.

(12)  Although short, perhaps hourly interruptions in the fusion process alone may be necessary.

(13)  Helium has an extremely stable nucleus and is chemically inert (hence its classification as a ‘noble gas’).

(14)  Typically 1 000 km/sec.

(15)  Radiotoxicity is a measure of the radiation damage caused by a radionuclide entering the human organism.

(16)  At these temperatures, a gas is fully ionised (i.e. the negatively charged electrons are no longer bound in the atomic shell, but move freely like the positively charged nuclei), and is thus an electricity-conducting medium that can, among other ways, be confined by magnetic fields. This state is called plasma.

(17)  Thermonuclear burning is explained in point 3.9.

(18)  Quotation original English.

(19)  Rev. Mod. Phys. 28, 338 (1956).

(20)  Quotation original English

(21)  Toroidal = ring-shaped.

(22)  Designed using a variant of the tokamak principle.

(23)  JET was thus a realisation of the method forecast by Bhabha, thereby confirming his prediction.

(24)  Originally the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, but today a name in its own right.

(25)  Plasma–wall interaction

(26)  In other words, ten times more energy is generated in the fusion plasma than is put in through special instruments such as high-performance neutral beam injectors or high-frequency emitters.

(27)  According to COM(2003) 215 final, the cost of the ITER construction phase is estimated at EUR 4,570 million (at 2000 values).

(28)  See, for instance, Spin-off benefits from fusion R&D EUR 20229-Fusion energy-Moving forward ISBN 92-894-4721-4 and the brochure Making a difference of the Culham Science Centre, Abingdon, Oxfordshire OX14 3DB, UK.

(29)  Lack of space precludes a detailed description of the complex and volatile political history of the project.

(30)  Particular mention must be made here of the stellarator.

(31)  For comparison: a brown-coal power plant requires around 1 000 t of brown coal.

(32)  1 gigawatt (GW) equals 1,000 megawatts (MW)

(33)  Lithium may be extracted from certain rocks, salt lake brines, geothermal and mineral water sources, water pumped from oilfields, and seawater. With the stocks currently known to be available, it would be possible to meet current total world energy requirements ten times over for many thousands of years.

(34)  For comparison: a brown-coal power plant with the same output emits around 1 000 t of CO2.

(35)  Excluding initial requirements on set-up which can be obtained, for example, from heavy water moderated fission reactors (Canada).

(36)  Near Aix-en-Provence, north-east of Marseilles, France.

(37)  In northern Japan.

(38)  or energy release/time

(39)  ‘…enhancing the development of the fusion option.’

(40)  Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament — Researchers in the European Research Area: one profession, multiple careers.

(41)  China, Japan and (South) Korea.