The battle to secure nomination to host the 10 billion Euro International Thermonuclear Energy Research (ITER) fusion research project has gained focus. ITER, designed to be the first large-scale demonstration of nuclear fusion, is due to start operating in 2014, and will run for 20 years.

The European Union has chosen Cadarache in France to be its candidate, rather than Vandellos in Spain. The battle between France and Spain to secure the EU nomination had soured relations between the two countries. According to French officials, the Spanish prime minister, José Maria Aznar, had asked France to drop its bid, but the French government simply increased its political support for the project. Aznar offered to double Spain’s financial support for its bid to 900 million Euros, but to no avail as France won vital support for its bid from UK prime minister Tony Blair. Spain will, however, host ITER’s administrative offices if the reactor is finally built in France.

The other competing site to host the project is Rokkasho in Aomori prefecture, Japan. This bid is receiving strong support from the Japanese government.

Canada has withdrawn from the race to host the ITER project. It officially pulled out of the ITER project at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in early December 2003. ITER Canada president Murray Stewart said that the Canadian group failed to develop a “competitive financial and technology package”. At the IAEA meeting, the EU and Japan both increased their bids to over 3 billion Euros, and Canada felt that it was unable to compete with this.

The working partners remaining in the ITER project are China, Japan, the EU, Russia, South Korea and the USA. A decision as to which site will host the project was expected by the end of 2003.