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#616 - October 1, 2004

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Full issue

25 Years ago

What happened 25 years ago? We go back to news from our 1979 WISE Bulletin, comparing anti-nuclear news then and now.

In issue 6 of WISE Bulletin we wrote about plans for a Canadian nuclear fusion research center: "The governments of Canada and the province of Alberta are in the process of deciding whether or not to allocate some $40 to 50 millions over the next five years to support a nuclear fusion research laboratory in or near Edmonton, Alberta". (WISE Bulletin, October 1979)

The University of Alberta presently has a plasma physics institute researching fusion-related technology. Canada has been involved in international fusion projects for decades. Fusion is often presented as the "clean" nuclear energy of the future, but in fact has similar disadvantages to nuclear energy from uranium.

Many countries have studied the technology of nuclear fusion by building small fusion reactors at research centers. As early as the 1950s, some physicists already began to think about nuclear fusion as a source of energy, even claiming that by the year 2000 most of the world's energy would be generated through nuclear fusion. In 1985, U.S. president Reagan and Soviet president Gorbachev launched the idea for a big international project: the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). The year 1996 was assumed as date when the partners would decide about the location of ITER, but even today no location has been chosen. (WISE News Communique 446, 12 February 1996)

But after almost 20 years, there is still no ITER reactor built. Fusion energy faces a lot of problems, varying from technological and economic to the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation. The biggest technological problem is the high temperature that is needed to fuse the elements hydrogen, deuterium or tritium (millions of degrees). This requires lots of energy and complex structures in the design of a reactor. Also a fusion reactor produces, like any nuclear reactor, radioactive waste and the reactor itself becomes highly radioactive. (WISE News Communique 446, 12 February 1996)

The proliferation risks of ITER concern the use of tritium, which is usable in modern nuclear weapons. The reactor could also be used for breeding plutonium due to its high flow of neutrons and the use of super-conductive magnets that can be used in other military technologies. (WISE News Communique 603, 13 February 2004)

Canada was partner in the ITER project until late 2003 and undertook much lobby work to locate ITER in Canada. It offered to contribute US$ 2.3 billion for the construction costs (totaling US$ 5.7 billion) if the reactor would be built in Canada. In December 2003 Canada withdrew due to a lack of federal government support. (WISE News Communique 600, 19 December 2003)

Present partners are the U.S., the European Union, Japan, South Korea, Russia and China. Regularly it is announced that a location will be selected "soon", but the decisions are often postponed for political and financial reasons. The two locations under consideration are Cadarache in France and Rokkasho-mura in Japan. The six ITER partners will meet again in mid-October in Vienna. (AFP, 24 September 2004)



ISSN: 1570-4629