ITER Canada bids on fusion reactor

29 December 2001

Representatives met behind closed doors in Toronto recently to discuss the industrial aspects of constructing the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), a US$6 billion nuclear fusion R&D facility.

Firms attended the meeting from the European Union (Framatome, Belgatom and Ansaldo), Japan (Hitachi, Toshiba and Mitsubishi), Russia (three technology companies), the USA (Raytheon, General Atomics and Fusion Power Associates) and Canada (Ontario Power Generation and three small Toronto area companies).

Peter Barnard, chairman and CEO of non-profit ITER Canada, said that ITER will consume as fuel virtually all of OPG’s tritium waste. In the confidential “Expression of Interest to Host ITER”, submitted to the European Commission in January 2000, ITER Canada pledged that OPG would offer “site, energy and tritium” for a Darlington ITER. ITER Canada also “expects to contribute up to 25% of anticipated construction costs, and an amount to be determined in the range of 10-20% of the reference operating costs of ITER” from private sector and Ontario government contributions.

Stephen Dean, president of Fusion Power Associates, said that “a Canadian ITER site would provide numerous advantages, including on-site access to tritium, lower costs to the main ITER parties, and enhanced likelihood of US participation”. A site in France and three in Japan are competing with Darlington to host ITER.

The five-week delay in releasing the meeting communique reflected unresolved differences between the US and Japanese delegations on bringing industry skills into the ITER project structure. In the Japanese view, personnel from industry would be assigned to the ITER Legal Entity, whereas the US wanted experienced companies to provide project management and co-ordination of all elements of the construction project.

ITER Canada is embarrassed by Ottawa’s refusal to champion its siting bid. Jim Campbell, a senior official at Natural Resources Canada, and the federal government’s observer on the ITER Canada board, said that “it is unusual to locate a science project in a country where the central government does not provide funding for at least some aspect of the venture.” Campbell added, however, that “ITER Canada believes the natural advantages of the Darlington site greatly reduce the cost of ITER construction and operation, compared to those of the competing international ITER sites in France and Japan. A Darlington ITER would be far cheaper for the other parties, even without Canadian federal financial participation. ITER Canada has decided to prepare a bid even in the face of Ottawa’s termination of fusion R&D support.” Chris Riddle, a senior official in Ontario’s Ministry of Energy, Science and Technology and the provincial observer on the ITER Canada board, said that in late 1996 Ontario premier Mike Harris wrote a confidential letter to Prime Minister Jean Chretien expressing a “willingness to commit” up to $7 million annually for 30 years to support ITER siting in Ontario.

Riddle added that as of late 2000, Ontario was still willing to commit $210 million, even without matching federal funding.

Participants visited OPG’s Darlington nuclear power plant on Lake Ontario, 60km east of downtown Toronto, where they inspected the Tritium Removal Facility, which extracts tritium from the heavy water coolant and moderator of OPG’s 20-reactor Candu fleet.



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