The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) Organisation on 15 October signed a Cooperation Agreement with the Canadian government, which sets out terms for the transfer of Canadian-supplied nuclear material (tritium), and tritium-related equipment and technology.
The construction of ITER in Cadarache, France, is funded mainly by the European Union (45.6%) with the remainder shared equally by China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the USA (9.1% each). However, in practice, the members deliver little monetary contribution to the project, instead providing ‘in-kind’ contributions of components, systems or buildings.
Canada played an important role in the early years of ITER. In the spring of 2001, as the ITER members were finalising the blueprint of the installation, a group of businesses, academics and trade unions offered to build ITER on Canadian soil—a proposal that provided a much-needed international credibility to the project. Because the USA left the ITER Project between December 1998 and January 2003, and Members China, Korea and India had not yet joined, in 2001 the members were Europe, Russia and Japan.
Although the members eventually made a different choice, contacts between ITER and Canada were never severed. The country's expertise, especially in tritium-related technologies, made it a natural partner for ITER and, as director general Bernard Bigot emphasised, "it was becoming evident that cooperation between the Canadian Government and the ITER Organisation should be developed”.
In April 2018, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed on the possibility of future cooperation and, since then, several Canadian government representatives have visited the ITER site.
ITER will begin producing deuterium/tritium plasmas in the mid-2030s. Over the course of its experimental campaign, it will consume the totality of the world tritium inventory, which amounts to only a few dozen kilos. The main source of tritium, which occurs naturally only in trace amounts, are Candu reactors, which were developed in Canada in the 1950s and 1960s. Candu reactors use natural uranium as fuel and heavy water as moderator, generating small quantities of tritium as a by-product.
There are presently 31 Candu reactors operating around the world, including 19 in Canada. Beyond direct cooperation with Canada, the new Cooperation Agreement is indispensable to allow for the "retransfer" of technologies from countries such as Korea or Romania, both partners in ITER, who also operate Candu reactors, ITER said.
The Agreement will enable the ITER Project “to associate one of the largest and most experienced technically-relevant tritium communities outside of the founding ITER members”.
Photo: ITER Director-General Bernard Bigot (right) and Assistant Deputy Minister Dan Costello (on screen) signed the Cooperation Agreement on Thursday 15 October (Credit: ITER Organisation).