Could fusion, the energy source of the sun and stars, be the energy of the future? Fusion has the potential to provide a safe, cost-efficient and sustainable solution to European and global energy needs. For this reason, the EU is part of one of the most ambitious energy projects in the world, called ITER in the south of France.
ITER is a unique project to build the world’s biggest fusion machine. By fostering innovation and international collaborations, the project creates economic growth and job opportunities while putting the EU in the lead of global fusion research. Although a purely experimental device, ITER will help advance fusion energy technology for a greener and more sustainable energy mix.
The road to fusion
Fusion science and technology have a long history in Europe and their development was accelerated from 1957 by the Euratom Treaty, which established a European atomic energy community. Since then, European fusion research is better coordinated to make sure that the technology moves forward, as quickly as possible.
European fusion laboratories collaborate through a consortium called EUROfusion, in line with the long-term strategy set out in the European research roadmap to the realisation of fusion energy.
ITER is of key importance in the roadmap, particularly as it aims to prove the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion as a future energy source. Although ITER itself will not produce electricity, DEMO - the device that may follow - should already model a real future fusion power plant and produce electricity. This in turn will pave the way for future commercialisation and use of fusion power, possibly in the second half of the century.
ITER governance and funding
The project stems from the ITER agreement, which was signed by China, Euratom (represented by the European Commission), India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the USA in 2006. Together, they govern the ITER Organization, which is responsible for constructing and managing the project.
Members have a domestic agency that manages their contributions to the project. The EU’s domestic agency is Fusion for Energy (F4E).
The European Union contributes 45% to the ITER project. For the period 2021 to 2027, the EU decided to allocate €5.61 billion to the project, following a Council decision in February 2021.
In December 2020, the United Kingdom and the EU concluded a trade and cooperation agreement and a protocol, by which the United Kingdom could participate in ITER activities through its membership to F4E, subject to the successful conclusion of the procedures to associate the United Kingdom to the European Union programmes.
The Broader Approach
In parallel to their collaboration on the ITER project, the EU and Japan are working together on three fusion-related projects.
The projects, all located in Japan, aim to complement ITER and accelerate the development of fusion power. The work includes the construction of an advanced fusion device, research into durable materials for use in future devices, and the setting-up of a remote operation room for ITER.
The cooperation was established by the signature of the Broader Approach Agreement in 2007 and a new, second phase of activities is being launched in 2020.
A study on the benefits of broader approach activities under the current agreement and the expected benefits of continued participation was published in May 2021. Major achievements include the design and construction of JT-60SA, the world’s largest tokamak, until ITER’s eventual commissioning.
Fusion for Energy and industry engagement
The EU’s domestic agency, Fusion for Energy, established in 2007 and based in Barcelona, Spain, is responsible for delivering Euratom’s contribution to the ITER project and the Broader Approach, and contracts businesses and research organisations in the EU to achieve this.
By participating in ITER, the EU makes substantial investment in European industry. More than €4 billion has already been invested in this way, which has had a strong and positive impact on the European economy in terms of producing economic growth and boosting employment. A study on the impact of ITER, and other fusion projects within the Broader Approach, on the EU economy further showed that ITER generated a net impact worth €104 million in 2008-2019.
Moreover, individual businesses that have produced components and provided services for ITER have reported being able to expand their facilities, upgrade equipment, and hire staff.
A study on ITER and COVID-19 has analysed the impact of the pandemic on both ITER and companies involved in the project. It showed that although two thirds of companies have been negatively impacted, close to one third stated that their involvement in ITER makes the companies more resilient to the consequences of the crisis.
EU participation in ITER
- 202021 July
The European Council agreed on the long-term EU budget 2021-2027, including ITER.
- 201807 June
The Commission adopted a proposal for a Council decision on EU funding ITER for the period 2021-2027
- 201817 April
The Council of the EU adopts its conclusions on the communication and reaffirms its continued commitment to the ITER project
- 201714 June
The Commission revises the EU contribution to ITER, in accordance with the baseline
- 201615-16 June
The ITER Council adopts a new baseline of the project and sets the earliest technically available date for the first operation of the machine at December 2025
- 20071 June
The Broader Approach agreement, signed jointly by Japan and the EU, enters into force
- 200719 April
The European body Fusion for Energy (F4E) is established for a period of 35 years
- 200621 November
The ITER agreement is signed by China, South Korea, the United States, India, Japan, Russia and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom)
- Fusion-ITER Studies
- Brochure: Broader Approach – Cutting-edge fusion energy research activities (January 2022)
- Council conclusions on ITER (12 April 2018)
- EU Contribution to a reformed ITER project communication COM (2017) 319 final
- ITER videos in all EU languages: Technology and Ecology (2022)
- ITER (website)
- Fusion for Energy (F4E)
- Fusion energy (DG Research and innovation )
- Article on fusion energy and ITER (May 2021) (EN | FR | DE | IT | ES | PL)
- Video: What is fusion? How can it change our future? (Fusion for Energy – May 2020)