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EU continues to refuse cooperation with UK nuclear fusion experiments

EU continues to refuse cooperation with UK nuclear fusion experiments


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Britain's attempt to continue cooperation on the world's largest fusion test has been rejected by the European Union, which wants Britain to rejoin its civil nuclear program as part of a deal.

Brussels has told London it will be shut out of the France-based Iter project within months unless it partners with Euratom, according to people familiar with the matter.

The UK has requested that Iter continue as an external partner, an agreement granted to Australia. But the EU said it should also participate in the Euratom research scheme. Australia has signed a cooperation agreement with Euratom.

London left Euratom because it did not believe the program offered value for money, and stayed on when it rejoined another EU research scheme last year.

Iter is an international project to build the Tokamak, the world's largest nuclear fusion reaction vessel. Even after 40 years of testing, the technology is still years away from proving it can produce commercially viable power, but proponents hope it could become a viable source of abundant low-carbon energy.

Excluding the EU, Iters members are China, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States.

There has been a strained relationship between the EU and the UK since Brexit, when contracts with Iter for dozens of British scientists ended in August. It cannot be extended beyond that point, according to two people familiar with the situation.

The UK joined Iter as part of Euratom and its continued participation would need to build on that, EU officials said. A second official said EU programs should not be selective.

For EU countries to participate in the Fusion for Energy joint venture that manages the bloc's contributions to Iter, they must participate in the Euratoms research and training program.

Fusion for Energy has a budget of 1.4 billion (1.2 billion) covering the period from January 2021 to December 2025. If the UK were to rejoin, it would be more than 150 million without discounts.

London and Brussels drafted a Brexit protocol in December 2020 specifying that the UK would participate in both the Euratom training program and Fusion for Energy.

Last year, a joint statement by the European Commission, the European Commission and the Council of the European Union, representing member states, noted with regret that the UK had decided not to participate in both measures.

The UK has its own fusion ambitions, managed by the Atomic Energy Authority. It has hosted the EU-backed Joint European Torus project for 40 years and conducted its last experiment in December.

Now the UK plans to build the world's first commercially viable fusion power plant in Nottinghamshire using pioneering nuclear reactor technology.

UK nuclear energy officials are hoping to secure a bespoke laboratory cooperation agreement with the EU and other Iter member states.

The UK Department of Energy Security and Net Zero, which oversees energy policy, said: International cooperation remains a key pillar of our strategy and we hope that continued UKAEA collaboration with Iter partners can be agreed.

The European Commission declined to comment.

Video: Fusion Power: How Close Are We? | FT film




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