(September 12, 2003) According to Canadian Natural Resources Minister Herb Dhaliwal, a cabinet decision is imminent on the proposed CDN$19 billion (US$ 14 billion) ITER experimental fusion reactor. The Sierra Club of Canada has established a new web site using ITER's own name 'www.iter.ca', to increase public awareness of the issue. The website contains extensive information on the problems of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor: costs, safety, waste, proposed site in Canada, etc.
(592.5541) Sierra Club of Canada - Sierra Club of Canada policy advisor David Martin said, "We were surprised to find that 'www.iter.ca' was available as an internet domain, and was not secured by ITER Canada. We hope that Canadians will find the new site informative. The Sierra Club expects that its web site will soon have more traffic than ITER Canada's own site." ITER Canada is the nuclear industry group promoting construction of ITER at the Darlington Nuclear Station in Clarington Ontario. Its web site is 'www.itercanada.com'.
Most Canadians are unaware that the ITER reactor has been the subject of intense nuclear industry lobbying. While the Ontario Province government of Ernie Eves plans social service cuts of CDN$1.5 billion, it has quietly committed about the same amount of tax dollars for the ITER fusion boondoggle. The Sierra Club web site provides information about the ITER project that has previously been discussed only behind closed doors. It includes a variety of background materials including the "Fusion Funnies" that provide an amusing and informative evaluation of the environmental and economic costs of the ITER reactor.
The federal cabinet was expected to make a crucial decision last June on whether to provide billion-dollar subsidies for ITER. In a recent letter to Canadian environmental leaders, Dhaliwal said that a decision will be made "in the near future". A decision is expected possibly in September. Minister Dhaliwal also said in the letter, "Canada entered into the [ITER] negotiations on the condition that the project be located in Canada and that the Government not be required to provide funding to the project or take any financial risk. Since then, France, Spain and Japan have tabled very attractive offers to host ITER, involving funding from these countries' governments."
ITER Canada originally promised there would be no financial cost for ITER, but returned to the Canadian and Ontario governments early this year seeking CDN$2.3 billion in cash subsidies. The Ontario government of Premier Ernie Eves has already committed to providing half of the CDN$2.3 billion subsidy. According to Natural Resources Canada, cost overruns on the reactor are likely and the Canadian and Ontario governments will be liable for them.
In addition to ITER funding, the international ITER partners are demanding that the Canadian government restart its fusion research program, which was costing about CDN$30 million per year when the government wisely decided to pull the plug in 1995. So the whole subsidy package could mount to CDN$3 billion or more, with two-thirds coming from the federal government. This could equal or exceed the amount of money (CDN$2 billion) promised to meet Canada's commitment to fight climate change under the Kyoto Protocol.
Even if the federal government decides against subsidizing the construction of ITER in Canada, ongoing Canadian participation to build ITER in Japan or Europe would likely require a contribution of 10% or more of the total cost - up to CDN$2 billion (1 billion from both the federal and Ontario governments).
The Canadian environmental community is opposing subsidies for construction of the ITER fusion reactor in Canada, as well as restart of the federal fusion program, and any ongoing participation in the ITER project. ITER Canada has misled the public by hiding the fact that the ITER reactor will not generate any electricity. A practical fusion generating station will take at least 50 years to build, and may prove too complicated and too expensive to succeed at all.
Other proposed sites for the ITER reactor are: Rokkasho in Japan, Cadarache in France and Vandellos in Spain. All sites which already host a nuclear facility.
More background on ITER can also be found in WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 584.5500: "U.S. and China join fusion project".