India, six other countries sign fusion reactor pact

Mumbai : India, China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, the US and the European Union - members of the global consortium of the international fusion energy organisation - have signed an agreement for establishing an experimental fusion reactor that seeks to emulate the power of the sun.

The consortium members signed an agreement to build the $12.8 billion reactor after a decade of negotiations, officials of the department of atomic energy said.

Atomic Energy Commission chairman Anil Kakodkar headed the Indian delegation to the ceremony held at Elysee Palace in Paris and hosted by French president Jacques Chirac and European Union president M Jose Manuel Durao Barroso.

The 'international thermonuclear experimental reactor' (ITER) facility will be built at Cadarache in southern France over a decade from 2008. The project aims at finding a clean and limitless alternative to dwindling fossil fuel reserves by testing nuclear fusion.

As opposed to splitting the atom - the principle of fission behind existing nuclear plants - the fusion reactor seeks to harness nuclear energy the way the sun fuses atomic nuclei.

"The next step will be to strengthen the technical team at Cadarache with an appropriate balance of experienced and young engineers and scientists and to provide them an environment which rapidly promotes the task of implementing the project," said Kakodkar.

If the project is successful, a prototype commercial reactor will be built. If that works, fusion technology will be used in new reactors across the world.