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Sponsors split on site of fusion machine
( 2003-12-22 13:37) (Agencies)

Officials of several nations meeting in Washington to consider where to build a nuclear fusion reactor postponed their decision after failing to agree on a site, representatives said Saturday.

Members of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project met Friday and Saturday, aiming to choose between a site in France and one in Japan for the $12 billion (10 billion euro) project.

They couldn't reach an agreement, French officials said.

"At the end of the meeting ... it was agreed by all parties present that no definitive choice could be made at this stage," France's Research Ministry said in a statement issued from Paris.

The ITER project is to be a joint venture between the United States, China, Russia, South Korea, the European Union and Japan.

The goal is to create a sustained nuclear fusion reaction that potentially will provide a safe and efficient source of pollution-free energy.

The U.S. Energy Department, which was host of the ITER meeting, had said Friday that it expected a decision on the winning site to be announced at the end of the gathering.

It was unclear when the ITER might meet again to vote on the site, but French official Stephane Salord said a decision would have to be taken by February and that voting rules could be changed to prevent another stalemate.

The European Union supports a site at Cadarache in southern France, while the small village of Rokkasho in Japan, home to about 12,000 people, was the other prime contender.

Japanese officials said their site offered access to a port and ample supplies of sea and fresh water, which they felt offered an advantage over the French site.

Fabio Fabbi, spokesman for European Union Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin, said the bloc would continue to campaign for its site in Cadarache, near the Mediterranean port Marseille.

"We regret the fact that the international partners were unable to reach agreement in a first shot, because although the Japanese site is of high quality, we think Cadarache is better and deserves to be the location," Fabbi said.

European sources close to the talks, held behind closed doors near Washington, said the United States and South Korea favored putting the plant in Japan. Russia and China were said to back the French site.

As well as prestige, big economic stakes are at play. Construction of the reactor alone is expected to require a decade and to provide about 2,000 jobs.

The site selection has potential political significance as well, given the sensitivity of diplomatic ties between Washington and Paris over France's opposition to the Iraq war.

In nuclear fusion, the same type of reaction that powers the sun, atoms are brought together to release enormous amounts of energy. That is opposed to nuclear fission, in which energy is released by splitting the atom. Fission is the process used to power nuclear plants and make weapons.

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