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18.3.2.  Controlled thermonuclear fusion in the EU

    Euratom is also actively engaged in the development of controlled thermonuclear fusion, which is safe for the environment. Thermonuclear fusion is a process which occurs on the surface of the Sun, releasing prodigious energy. In the Sun's core at temperatures of 10 to 15 million degrees Celsius, hydrogen is converted to helium providing enough energy to sustain life on Earth. Man has conceived of reproducing on earth, in a controlled fashion, what happens on the Sun. In fact, by heating gases such as deuterium (abundant in all forms of water) and lithium (plentiful in the Earth's crust) or tritium (manufactured from lithium) to a temperature of 100 million degrees Celsius, their electrons are completely separated from the atomic nuclei, atoms fuse and a fantastic release of energy within that "plasma" ensues. However, one must first obtain that extraordinary temperature, which is feasible, and the plasma must thereafter be confined within a magnetic space known as a "torus", which is more difficult. The objective of European research is to produce and contain plasma, which has the properties required for the reactors of the future, in a magnetic field known as "tokamak". For reasons bound up with the complexity of fundamental knowledge in physics and the technological problems to be resolved, the developments needed for the possible application of fusion for energy production take the form of a process in several steps, each of which has an impact on the next one. Two specific objectives of the Euratom Programme 2014-2018 are: to move towards demonstration of feasibility of fusion as a power source by exploiting existing and future fusion facilities; and to lay the foundations for future fusion power plants by developing materials, technologies and conceptual design.

    Thermonuclear fusion research is pursued since 1978 at Culham (United Kingdom) in an establishment which does not form part of the Joint Research Centre, but which is administered by a joint undertaking, the Joint European Torus (JET), within the meaning of Article 45 of the Euratom Treaty [Decisions 78/471 and 78/472 last amended by Decision 98/585 see section 19.2.3] and whose Board of Governors is made up of representatives of the participating States and of the Commission, with a budget 80% of which is financed by the European Community/Union [Decision 96/305].

    The construction of ITER at Cadarache in France, and of Broader Approach Activities to accelerate the development of fusion energy take place within the framework of international cooperation. An international ITER agreement established the ITER International Fusion Energy Organisation. The European Domestic Agency for ITER provides the means for Euratom to discharge its international obligations under the ITER Agreement [see section 18.2.6]. European industry, including SMEs, will play a central role in the construction of ITER and will position itself to participate fully in the development of fusion power technologies for DEMO (a "demonstration" fusion power station) and future fusion power plants.

    The outstanding technology developments achieved by Euratom in contributing to the ITER Engineering Design Activities and the successful exploitation of the JET facilities have given Europe the knowledge and experience needed for broad collaborative efforts in all aspects of fusion energy research, including the realisation of ITER and Broader Approach projects. Building on these achievements, the organisation and management of the Seventh Framework Programme aims to ensure that the R & D will be effectively and efficiently coordinated for the fulfilment of the near and long term goals of the programme.

    For the joint realisation of ITER the EC/EU has a special responsibility within the ITER Organisation as the host of the project and assumes a leading role, in particular regarding site preparation, establishing the ITER Organisation, management and staffing, plus general technical and administrative support. Community participation in ITER as a Party includes contributions to the construction of equipment and installations which are within the perimeter of the ITER site and support to the project during construction. The R & D activities in support of ITER construction are carried out in the Fusion Associations, which are centres of excellence in fusion research and have an extensive network of collaborations, largely based on their experimental facilities.

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