BRUSSELS, May 24 (UPI) -- An international scheme to build a nuclear fusion reactor in France has come under fire due to ballooning funding concerns.
Overall costs for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor have risen from an initial $6 billion estimate in 2006 to around $18 billion, German news magazine Der Spiegel reports.
The research reactor is to be built by 2015 in Cadarache in southern France by a consortium including the European Union, China Japan, Russia, India and the United States. It is then to operate for another 20 years. The aim of ITER is to show that atoms can be fused together inside a reactor to produce electricity. Conventional nuclear power reactors do the opposite, harnessing energy released from splitting atoms apart.
The EU, which at the start of the project pledged to shoulder 40 percent of the costs, said its share has grown by more than $1.7 billion to at least $9 billion.
Der Spiegel reports that new technical and safety standards have caused the cost increase. The commission is now mulling to pass on the additional costs to member states, which are not amused.
The commission's proposals, which include demanding guarantees from member states to shoulder all additional costs until 2020, "are not acceptable," the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper quoted a German diplomat as saying. France and Germany have already suggested ways to cut costs by some $740 million, he said.
Germany has said that it wants to support ITER but not at just any price.
Brussels aims to secure the additional funds before June 18 talks with the additional partner countries.
Observers hope that nuclear fusion can one day produce CO2-free base-load power on a large-scale.
Once the technical challenges -- and there are many -- are overcome, fusion power has potential advantages including the existence of abundant fuel, a relatively safe energy generation producing only low-level waste and no production of greenhouse gases.
But critics say the international community is investing too much money into an energy source that might never, or at least not anytime soon, benefit the ordinary population in the form of large-scale energy generation.
A 2006 editorial in New Scientist magazine said that "if commercial fusion is viable, it may well be a century away."