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Scientists to Play Key Role in Global Fusion Reactor

China will be involved in the development of all the core technologies needed to build the world's biggest experimental nuclear fusion reactor.


On Wednesday China signed a historic deal with the European Union, the United States, Russia, India, Japan and the Republic of Korea to build the US$14 billion International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER).


The project is believed to be the most expensive science experiment ever, with China contributing 10 percent of the funding.


Scientists hope ITER will unlock the secrets of nuclear fusion, which could solve the world's energy crisis and bring an end to global warming caused by burning fossil fuels.


Last night Yang Changchun, an engineer with China's ITER office, told China Daily that Chinese scientists will be involved in 12 of the project's key program, including manufacturing superconductors and power supply sets.


"China will take part in the research and development of all core technologies in this project," said Yang.


All participants are expected to ratify the agreement to build ITER by the end of the year, with construction beginning in Cadarache, France, in 2007, said the Xinhua News Agency.


Under the new accord, which was signed in Brussels on Wednesday after three years of talks, the EU will pay 50 percent of ITER's total cost with the rest divided amongst the other participants.


The entire project is expected to last 30 years, with the first 10 years spent constructing the facilities.


The finished reactor will have a power capacity of 500 megawatts.


Experts predict that by the end of the century 10 to 20 percent of the world's energy could come from nuclear fusion.


Huo Yuping, the leading scientist in China's ITER Office, said it was ITER's significance in solving the energy problems confronted by all humanity that had encouraged China to lend it's scientists to the project.


He added that the nation could also take advantage of ITER to develop related advanced technologies.


Although fusion experiments have only taken place in a few countries around the world, they could hold the key to unlocking vast untapped supplies of energy.


Theoretically, a fusion power plant could generate 1,000 megawatts of electricity from only 1 kilogram of deuterium and 10 kilograms of lithium.


A conventional nuclear fission power station would need 500 kilograms of highly radioactive uranium to generate the same amount of power, while a coal power station would need 10,000 tons of coal.


As scientists are able to extract deuterium from sea water, with fusion power the world's oceans would contain enough energy to meet human use for the next 6 billion years.


(China Daily May 26, 2006)


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