European Commission proposes Supplementary Research Programme for ITER

Source: European Commission (EC) i, published on Wednesday, December 21 2011.

The European Commission has today proposed to set up a "Supplementary Research Programme" under the Euratom Treaty for the EU contribution to the ITER i project from 2014 to 2018. This responds to the Commission's Communication “A Budget for Europe 2020” that proposed to fund this contribution outside the Multi-annual Financial Framework ("MFF") after 2013. The Supplementary Research Programme will ensure that Europe is able to honour its international obligations to the ITER project.

ITER aims to demonstrate fusion as a viable and sustainable source of energy. The project brings together seven parties that represent half of the world’s population - the European Union, Russia, Japan, China, India, South Korea and the United States. ITER is being built in Cadarache, France.

What is being proposed for the management of ITER?

The proposed Programme covers the contributions to the construction of the ITER facility, procurement of equipment and installations and general technical and administrative support for the project during construction, and participation in commissioning and initial operation, as well as other ITER related activities, such as those under the Broader Approach Agreement with Japan.

Under the proposal the project would continue to be managed on the EU side by the European Commission and "Fusion For Energy i" (F4E), the European Union’s Joint Undertaking for ITER and the Development of Fusion Energy. The current financial and staff rules would continue to apply and the Commission would continue to represent the EU in the different ITER bodies.

The functioning of F4E, its management and staffing as well as the general technical and administrative support are also covered by the Supplementary Research Programme for the ITER project. The activities of F4E, for the period 2014 - 2018, will be as follows:

(a) To provide the Euratom contribution to the ITER International Fusion Energy Organisation, including those R&D activities necessary for developing the basis for the procurement of the ITER components and the procurement of the ITER Test Blanket Modules;

(b) To provide the Euratom contribution to Broader Approach Activities with Japan;

(c) As appropriate, other activities in order to prepare the basis for the design of a demonstration reactor and related facilities.

Why is the Commission proposing to fund ITER outside the MFF after 2013, and not within Horizon 2020?

The multi-annual financial framework is not a suitable or flexible vehicle for funding major and very long-term projects like ITER, due to their budgetary unpredictability as well as to the fact that execution depends also on international partners. Furthermore ITER shares some features with other large scale projects of interest to the EU: their budgets are disproportionately high in relation to the size of the EU budget.

A Supplementary Research Programme under the Euratom Treaty will provide more certainty to this challenging project. Compared to other alternatives, this solution will provide continuity for the project, in particular with respect to international partners; it will also avoid a re-negotiation process to modify the ITER International Agreement.

The Supplementary Research Programme will cover the Euratom contribution to these costs for the first five years of the next MFF (2014-2018), a limitation established directly by the Euratom Treaty. The remaining two years until the end of the construction phase would in principle be covered by a follow-up programme.

How much money is necessary, and how will the funding outside the MFF work?

The financial contribution estimated as necessary for the execution of the Programme for the five-year period 2014-2018 is EUR 2.361 billion1. The contribution to be given for the period 2019-2020 will be defined in due time, but is currently estimated at EUR 346 million2. The total EU contribution to the construction phase of the ITER project, which started in 2007 and is currently expected to be finalised in 2020, has been capped at EUR 6.6 billion3.

The proposal presumes that all EU Member States would contribute to this research programme and that these contributions would be calculated on the basis of their Gross National Income (GNI), as it is done for the GNI own resource contribution to the EU Budget. Third countries which have concluded a cooperation agreement with Euratom in the field of controlled nuclear fusion that associate their respective research programmes with the Euratom programmes may also contribute to this Supplementary Research Programme.

The contributions would be treated as "assigned revenue", managed by the Commission. In other words, the funds provided can only be used to finance this specific expenditure and not other EU activities. In practice, these funds would finance the annual contribution provided to the agency "Fusion For Energy" (F4E), which provides the EU's contribution to ITER.

Why invest in ITER?

Europe needs to secure its future energy supply. The EU has an energy trade deficit of more than EUR 300 billion - or more than EUR 800 million a day - far more than the cost of ITER. Meanwhile the world's fossil fuels are literally being burnt out.

ITER is a major step towards the demonstration of fusion as a sustainable energy source. Due to its important advantages, such as the availability of large fuel reserves and the lack of CO2 emissions, fusion could greatly contribute to the long-term EU energy strategy and to the long-term de-carbonisation of the energy system in a safe, efficient and secure way.

Furthermore, fusion has inherent safety features that set it apart from traditional nuclear power. The main purpose of the ITER project is to build and operate an experimental fusion reactor.

ITER is part of the Strategic Energy Technology (SET) Plan and will contribute to the Europe 2020 strategy and to the ‘Innovation Union’ flagship by supporting the mobilisation of European high-tech industries which will gain new skills and manufacturing capabilities through participation in Fusion for Energy (F4E) contracts. It is therefore a vital aspect of EU research activities and should provide the EU with a global competitive advantage in this promising sector.

In addition to the long-term objectives, ITER is already having a positive impact on industrial competitiveness and job creation now. Many ITER activities require industrial contributions such as in civil, mechanical, electrical, materials and nuclear engineering.

More than three quarters of the overall Community contribution to ITER will result in contracts with private European companies. The creation of new jobs in Europe directly due to ITER activities will be significant because a large fraction of the expenditure is for R&D and engineering tasks which are more labour-intensive than conventional manufacturing.

In the long term ITER presents a unique opportunity for European high tech industry and construction companies to establish a global competitive advantage and to become a leading actor in the design of the first generation of fusion power plants, and subsequent international commercialization.

Why is ITER funded at the European level?

The risks, costs, and long-term nature of a project such as ITER put it beyond the reach of individual Member States and even of the EU as such. Thus, the establishment of a global framework was seen as necessary to undertake this project. In order to take part in this international project, action at European level shares risk and generates a breadth of scope and economies of scale that could not otherwise be achieved.

The Supplementary Research Programme will ensure that Europe can make its contributions to the successful construction of the ITER device within the framework of the international collaboration. Since Europe is making the largest contribution to the project (45% of the construction costs) the impacts of the Programme will be greatest in Europe. These impacts will be both near term (competitiveness benefits to European industry) and long term (a leading role for Europe in the commercial exploitation of fusion energy).

More about ITER:

See also MEMO/10/165:

More about Fusion For Energy:

More about the SET Plan:

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