United States, International Partners Initial Fusion Energy Pact

By Cheryl Pellerin
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - Officials from the United States, China, the European Union, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation initialed an agreement May 24 to build ITER, an international fusion energy project.

Fusion - the energy source of the Earth’s sun and other stars - has the potential to become a long-range option for clean energy, but the use of fusion as a controllable energy source is still in the experimental stages.

In a fusion reaction, the nuclei, or centers, of two light atoms - those with fewer numbers of protons and neutrons - fuse together to form heavier atoms and release large amounts of energy in the process.

A more familiar energy-generating process is nuclear fission, in which heavy atoms like uranium are split apart, releasing the internal energy that holds the atom together.

Fission energy is used commercially around the world to generate about 16 percent of the world’s electricity, according to the World Nuclear Association.

ITER, originally called the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, is a 30-year experiment designed to show that fusion can be used to generate electrical power, and to collect the data necessary to design and operate the first electricity-producing fusion power plant.


In fiscal year 2006, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) allocated $25 million to ITER; President Bush has requested $60 million for the project in fiscal year 2007.

“As partners in ITER,” said Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, “we are pursuing the promise of unlimited, clean, safe, renewable and commercially available energy from nuclear fusion, which has the potential to significantly strengthen energy security at home and abroad.”

President Bush announced in 2003 that the United States was joining the negotiations for the construction and operation of this major international research project.

The United States was an original participant in the early design, research and development for ITER, and U.S. participation in the ITER construction and operation phases capitalizes on the previous investment.

Europe, as host - ITER is being built in Cadarache, France - will contribute 45.4 percent of the construction cost; the six other partners, including the United States, each will provide 9.1 percent.

DOE laboratories will subcontract with industry to build ITER components for which the United States is responsible. The total U.S. contribution to ITER construction will be $1.1 billion.


“Initialing this agreement,” said Raymond Orbach, who signed the agreement as director of the DOE Office of Science, “brings us one step closer to a viable source of fusion power, with the potential to free the quickly growing global economy and population from the looming constraints of conventional energy supplies and their associated environmental effects.”

Orbach called ITER “the first stand-alone, truly international, large-scale scientific research effort in the history of the world.” The seven parties to the agreement represent more than half of the world's population, he added.

By initialing the ITER agreement, U.S. representatives and international partners agree  formally to conclude negotiations and submit the agreement to their governments for final approval.

DOE will transmit to Congress the final initialed text of the Joint Implementation Agreement to begin a 120-day review required by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The parties expect to sign the formal agreement this fall.


Fusion energy could generate clean electricity and hydrogen needed to power fuel cell vehicles of the future. Fusion power has the following advantages:

• Fusion is clean - It produces few atmospheric emissions and no greenhouse gas emissions.

• Fusion is safe - Reactors cannot melt down like today’s nuclear fission power plants and they do not generate the high-level, long-lasting radioactive waste associated with nuclear power.

• Fusion is renewable - Commercial fusion reactors would use the elements lithium and deuterium, both readily available natural resources.

Additional information about the international fusion project is available at the ITER Web site.