Mon, Dec 22, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Japan continues to fight for nuclear fusion energy plant


Japan vowed yesterday to pursue its bid to host an experimental project that would generate energy by reproducing the sun's power source after negotiations by international sponsors ended in a deadlock.

Japan and France have been bidding for the world's first large-scale nuclear fusion plant -- an estimated US$12 billion effort to find a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

A final decision on a site had been expected Saturday, but the project's sponsors -- the EU, the US, Russia, South Korea, China, Japan and Canada -- failed to reach a consensus during talks in Washington on Saturday.

"The meeting ended in a deadlock and it is a shame that we were unable to get a favorable response, but we plan to do our utmost in the days ahead to bring [the project] to Japan," Science and Technology Minister Takeo Kawamura said in a statement released in Tokyo on Sunday.

The consortium plans to meet again in February after further evaluating the sites in northern Japan and southeastern France.

Fusion, which powers the sun and stars, involves colliding atoms at extremely high temperatures and pressure inside a reactor. When the atoms fuse into a plasma they release energy that can be harnessed to generate electricity.

The process produces low levels of radioactive waste but no greenhouse gases, and there is little risk of a radioactive meltdown.

Also, while fossil fuels are expected to run short in about 50 years, the reactor would run on an isotope of hydrogen, a virtually boundless source of fuel that can be extracted from water.

The stakes are high because the project means jobs, government subsidies and prestige.

Tokyo has proposed Rokkasho village on the northern tip of the main Honshu island because of its proximity to a major port, meaning sea water can be pumped for fuel and that heavy-duty reactor parts can be transported by ship in one piece. The town also already hosts an industrial complex, and a nuclear fuel disposal and reprocessing plant is scheduled to be finished in 2006.

France, with EU backing, is proposing the southeastern town of Cadarache, which boasts a more temperate climate and does not face the same threat of earthquakes as Rokkasho does.

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